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Taxi drivers, union express virus fears as cars begin picking up Tokyo Games personnel

A taxi with a sign showing it is for people connected to the Tokyo Olympic Games is seen in Tokyo's Koto Ward on July 13, 2021. (Mainichi/Hajime Nakatsugawa)
A sign indicating a taxi is for use by Tokyo Games personnel is seen in the capital's Koto Ward on July 13, 2021. (Mainichi/Hajime Nakatsugawa)

TOKYO -- With taxis in east Japan now helping transport overseas arrivals connected to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, drivers are growing concerned of potential coronavirus infections, and one union has requested the organizing committee rethink its transport plans.

    The Japanese government has adopted the "bubble system" for eliminating contact between the public and games-connected individuals, including overseas athletes. It has also banned them from public transport including taxis for 14 days upon entering Japan. During the two-week period, they are expected to take chartered cars or buses.

    But insufficient chartered car numbers have led to the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games asking the taxi industry to drive games-connected individuals. The requests are based on a special exception system by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism allowing taxis' temporary use as chartered cars. The ministry says about 410 operators with some 32,000 taxis in five Kanto region prefectures including Tokyo have applied to join the system until its Sept. 8 expiry.

    According to the organizing committee, "Transport by Chartered Taxi service" operations fully began on July 9 for games-connected personnel including sponsor company employees and media organizations. When a taxi looking for customers receives instructions to transport people connected to the games, drivers put a sign on their windshield reading "Dedicated Vehicle for Tokyo 2020" and go to collect passengers at designated locations. After dropping them off, the taxi interior is ventilated and disinfected before returning to standard customer services.

    On July 12, the National Federations of Automobile Transport Workers Unions issued a statement demanding the organizing committee revise its transport methods, saying, "It is obvious that drivers and customers who next take the taxis are at extremely high risk of infection." It cited reasons including that some taxis lack acrylic boards separating driver and passenger sides. One representative said, "It creates holes in the 'bubble system.'"

    An executive at Tokyo-based taxi operator Yamasan Kotsu KK, which from July 9 has been driving games-related personnel from Haneda Airport and elsewhere to quarantine hotels, said, "While we are concerned about customers' potential coronavirus infection, we wish to respond by thoroughly disinfecting our car interiors."

    Another taxi firm's driver expressed confusion: "I make sure to keep the windows open for ventilation when driving, but I worry whether it would be all right to shut them when it's really hot outside."

    The organizing committee emphasized safety, saying, "Sufficient infection prevention measures are meant to be taken, including a certain amount of time for disinfections -- during which taxis do not accept passengers."

    (Japanese original by Hajime Nakatsugawa, Business News Department)

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