Top Japan medic urges nationwide state of emergency amid COVID surge

By Akiko Okamoto, Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) – The head of the Japan Medical Association called on Tuesday for a nationwide state of emergency to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases in Olympics host city Tokyo and elsewhere, Kyodo news agency said, as worries grow about a strained healthcare system.

The call by JMA President Toshio Nakagawa followed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s announcement that only COVID-19 patients who are seriously ill and those at risk of becoming so will be hospitalized, while others isolate at home, a shift in policy some fear could boost the death toll.

Japan has seen a sharp increase in coronavirus cases. Tokyo, which had a record high of 4,058 new infections on Saturday, had another 3,709 new cases on Tuesday.

Tokyo hospitals are already feeling the crunch, Hironori Sagara, director of Showa University Hospital, told Reuters.

“There are those being rejected repeatedly for admission,” he said in an interview. “In the midst of excitement over the Olympics, the situation for medical personnel is very severe.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters fewer elderly people, most already vaccinated, were getting infected.

“On the other hand, infections of younger people are increasing and people in their 40s and 50s with severe symptoms are rising,” he said, adding some could not immediately get admitted to hospital.

Suga announced the change in hospital policy on Monday, saying the government would ensure people isolating at home can be hospitalized if necessary. Previous policy had focused on hospitalizing a broader category of patients.

Suga and Olympics organizers say there is no link between the July 23-Aug. 8 Summer Games and the sharp increase in cases.

Medical experts, however, have said holding the Olympics sent a confusing message about the need to stay home, contributing to the rise.

Unlike the voluntary restrictions and low vaccination rates elsewhere in Japan, more than 80% of the people in the Olympic village in Tokyo for athletes and coaches are vaccinated, testing is compulsory and movement is curtailed.

Organisers on Tuesday announced 18 new Games-related COVID-19 cases, bringing the total since July 1 to 294.

‘IN-HOME ABANDONMENT’

On Tuesday, Suga, meeting with heads of national medical groups, vowed to “protect people’s lives”.

“The spreading infections on a nationwide scale are approaching our biggest crisis since last year’s first wave,” Nakagawa said.

Some worry the hospital policy shift could lead to more deaths.

“They call it in-home treatment but it’s actually in-home abandonment,” opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano was quoted as saying by NHK public TV.

Japan on Monday expanded its state of emergency to include three prefectures near Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka. An existing emergency in Tokyo – its fourth since the pandemic began – and Okinawa is now set to last through Aug. 31.

Japan’s latest emergency steps, unlike stricter measures in many countries, have focused mainly on asking eateries that serve alcohol to close and those that don’t to close by 8 p.m.

The country has avoided a devastating outbreak of the virus, with about 941,000 total cases and just over 15,000 deaths as of Monday.

But it is now struggling to contain the highly transmissible Delta variant even as the public grows weary of mostly voluntary limits on activities and the vaccination rollout lags.

Just under 30% of the population is fully vaccinated, including three-quarters of those 65 and over.

Nearly 70% of hospital beds for seriously ill COVID-19 patients were filled as of Sunday, Tokyo data showed.

Showa University Hospital’s Sagara said there was a difference between theoretically available beds and beds that could accept patients immediately.

“I think the latter is close to zero,” he said, adding that if infections keep rising, hospitals will have to limit surgery and other non-COVID-19 treatments.

“We must avoid a situation in which the Olympics was held but the medical system collapsed,” he said. “At present, infections are spreading quite a lot and if they spike further, (the Olympics) will be considered a failure.”

According to health ministry guidelines, seriously ill patients are defined as those admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) or needing artificial respirators.

The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper said 12,000 patients were isolating at home, a 12-fold increase in the past month.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg, Akiko Okamoto and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando, Ami Miyazaki and Tim Kelly; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Nick Macfie)

Olympics-Risk of COVID spread is ‘zero’, IOC chief says, amid rising cases

TOKYO (Reuters) -International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said on Thursday there was “zero” risk of Games participants infecting Japanese residents with COVID-19, as cases hit a six-month high in the host city.

Bach said Olympics athletes and delegations had undergone more than 8,000 coronavirus tests, resulting in three positive results. “Risk for the other residents of Olympic village and risk for the Japanese people is zero,” he added.

The three cases have been placed in isolation and their close contacts are also in quarantine, Bach said at the beginning of talks with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto.

Just over a week before the July 23 opening ceremony, Tokyo reported 1,308 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, its highest daily tally since late January.

Postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Summer Olympics have little public support in Japan amid widespread fears about a further spread of the coronavirus.

Critics on Thursday submitted a petition against the Games that has garnered more than 450,000 signatures this month, Japanese media reported.

Organizers have imposed Olympics “bubbles” to prevent further transmissions of COVID-19, but medical experts are worried they might not be sufficiently tight.

COVID-19 CASES EMERGE

A number of infections have emerged among visiting athletes and people involved with the Games.

An Olympic athlete under a 14-day quarantine period has tested positive in Tokyo, the organizing committees’ website reported on Thursday, without disclosing any details about the athlete.

Eight members of the Kenyan women’s rugby team had been classified as close contacts of a passenger on their flight to Tokyo who had tested positive for coronavirus, their squad said.

The athletes had been isolated as a precaution, but had all tested negative on arrival and were expected to link up with the rest of the players at their residential training camp in Kurume on Friday, the team added.

Tokyo entered its fourth state of emergency earlier this week amid a rebound in COVID-19 cases that pushed Games organizers to ban spectators from nearly all venues.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters Japan would take thorough steps to strengthen border controls against the coronavirus.

Given the state of emergency in the host city, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said it would bar public access to the capital’s waterfront area and asked the public to refrain from visiting the Olympic flame platform.

The waterfront area, dubbed Tokyo Waterfront City, was supposed to feature “cool spots, rest areas and dining spaces” and be open to spectators and non-ticket holders, according to organizers.

Some of the sponsor booths may be operated on a restricted-access basis during the Games, a committee spokesperson told reporters.

A decision of whether to allow public access to the area during the Paralympic Games will be taken after the Olympics have ended, the spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu, Ju-min Park Editing by Michael Perry, Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

Factbox: Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

(Reuters) – Olympics organizers capped the number of spectators at 10,000 for each venue of the 2020 Tokyo Games, days after experts said holding the event without fans was the least risky option during the pandemic.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

EUROPE

* President Vladimir Putin said the coronavirus situation in some Russian regions was getting worse as authorities began promoting the idea of regular revaccinations to try to halt a surge in cases.

* French nightclubs will be allowed to re-open from July 9, government minister Alain Griset said, allowing the industry to operate for the first time since it was shut during the France’s COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

* As the Delta coronavirus variant continues to spread, Portuguese authorities are scrambling to bring a spike in cases under control and said they would accelerate vaccinations and increase testing.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* India’s government is in talks with Pfizer and other vaccine manufacturers to import their COVID-19 vaccines in accordance with local laws, a senior government official said.

* Indonesia passed the mark of 2 million coronavirus cases after a record number of new infections, as authorities announced a tightening of restrictions to contain the spread in the world’s fourth most populous country.

* Hong Kong said it would shorten the quarantine period for vaccinated people arriving in the city to seven days from 14, provided travelers show sufficient antibodies against the novel coronavirus.

* Taiwan welcomed 2.5 million vaccine doses from the United States on Sunday as help from a true friend. China’s foreign ministry urged the United States not to seek “political manipulation” in the name of vaccine assistance.

* Well above 80% of the athletes and officials residing in the Olympic village will be vaccinated when the Games kick off, the International Olympic Committee President said.

AMERICAS

* Canada will start cautiously lifting border restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens and other eligible people on July 5 but U.S. and other foreign travelers will still be excluded, the government said.

* U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least July 21, the U.S. Homeland Security Department said.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Africa is working with the European Union and other partners to help create regional vaccine manufacturing hubs in Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa, with Nigeria under consideration, World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said.

* An Israeli health official urged more 12- to 15-year-olds to be vaccinated, citing new outbreaks that he attributed to the Delta variant.

* Qatar will only allow people fully vaccinated to attend next year’s World Cup and is in talks to secure one million doses, the prime minister said.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology said final results from a late-stage study of their monoclonal antibody confirmed it significantly reduced hospitalization and death among high-risk COVID-19 patients when given early in the disease.

* Cuba’s Soberana 2 vaccine candidate has shown 62% efficacy with just two of its three doses, state-run biopharmaceutical corporation BioCubaFarma said on Saturday.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* Global stocks dropped to a four-week low after last week’s surprise hawkish shift by the U.S. Federal Reserve reduced the allure of riskier assets, while the dollar held gains and stood near a 10-week high.

(Compiled by Veronica Snoj and Juliette Portala. Edited by Shounak Dasgupta, Mark Heinrich and Barbara Lewis)

German, Israeli air forces fly past 1972 Munich Olympic attack site

FUERSTENFELDBRUCK, Germany (Reuters) – German and Israeli fighter jets flew in formation past the site of the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics on Tuesday in their first joint exercise in Germany.

As part of their “Blue Wings 2020” maneuvers, German and Israeli pilots flew over the Fuerstenfeldbruck military airfield near Munich to commemorate the attack which left 11 Israelis, a German policeman and five Palestinian gunmen dead.

A gunfight erupted at the airfield after Palestinians from the Black September group took members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage at the poorly secured athletes village on Sept. 5, 1972.

Later the jets flew over the site of the Dachau concentration camp where some 200,000 people, many of them Jews, were imprisoned and 41,500 murdered under Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. Set up in 1933, it was meant as a model for other concentration camps.

Senior officials, including a relative of a camp survivor and German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer were due to take part in a ceremony there.

“Our Air Force pilots flew over the Dachau concentration camp in Germany today,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a tweet. “In Dachau a massacre of the Jewish people took place.

“The big lesson of the Holocaust is that no one will protect the Jews if they do not defend themselves. Today we are defending ourselves. I salute our pilots!”

Since the end of World War Two, Berlin has felt a special responsibility towards Israel and the joint maneuvers are the first time Israeli fighter planes have trained in Germany.

A rise in anti-Semitism, in particular an attack on a synagogue in Halle last year which left two people dead, has caused alarm in Germany.

Luftwaffe chief of staff Ingo Gerhartz said the program was a sign of friendship. The darkest chapter of German history handed the country the “task to resolutely fight anti-Semitism today,” he was quoted by broadcaster BR24 as saying.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

U.S. could become next coronavirus epicenter, WHO says

By Emma Farge

GENEVA/TOKYO (Reuters) – The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the United States could become the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, which finally forced reluctant organizers to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

Britain joined the ranks of countries in lockdown to try to hold back the virus, and data showed business activity collapsing from Australia and Japan and Western Europe at a record pace in March, with the United States showing expected to be just as dire.

“The coronavirus outbreak represents a major external shock to the macro outlook, akin to a large-scale natural disaster,” analysts at BlackRock Investment Institute said.

But amid the gathering gloom, the Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus was first identified in December, said it would lift travel restrictions on people leaving the region as the epidemic eases there.

Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world exceeded 377,000 across 194 countries and territories as of early Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, more than 16,500 of them fatal.

In Geneva, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters there had been a “very large acceleration” in infections in the United States.

Over the previous 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were in Europe and the United States, and of those, 40 percent were in the United States.

As of Monday, the virus had infected more than 42,000 people there, killing at least 559.

Asked whether the United States could become the new epicenter, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.”

Some U.S. state and local officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action, saying that having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies.

President Donald Trump acknowledged the difficulty.

“The World market for face masks and ventilators is Crazy. We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy,” he tweeted.

OLYMPIC ORGANIZERS GIVE IN

Olympic Games organizers and the Japanese government had clung to the hope that the world’s biggest sporting event could go ahead, but finally bowed to the inevitable to make Tokyo 2020 the latest and biggest victim of a ravaged sporting calendar.

After a call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the July 24-Aug. 9 event would be rescheduled for the summer of 2021 at the latest – as proof of victory over the coronavirus.

“President Bach said he is in agreement, 100%.”

It was the first time in the Olympics’ 124-year history that they had been postponed, though they were canceled outright three times during the two 20th-century world wars.

Of the top 10 countries by case numbers, Italy has reported the highest fatality rate, at around 10%, which at least partly reflects its older population. The fatality rate globally – the ratio of deaths to confirmed infections – is around 4.3%, though national figures can vary widely according to how much testing is done.

Britain, believed by experts to be about two weeks behind Italy in the outbreak cycle, on Tuesday began curbs on movement without precedent in peacetime after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the country to stay at home.

The streets of the capital were eerily quiet as all but essential shops closed and people only went to work if it was unavoidable.

Johnson had resisted pressure to impose a full lockdown even as other European countries had done so, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.

Meanwhile China’s Hubei province, the original center of the outbreak, will lift curbs on people leaving the area, but other regions will tighten controls as new cases double due to imported infections.

The provincial capital Wuhan, which has been in total lockdown since Jan. 23, will lift its travel restrictions on April 8.

However, the risk from overseas infections appears to be on the rise, prompting tougher screening and quarantine measures in major cities such as the capital Beijing.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus

(Additional reporting by Emma Farge, Stephanie Nebehay, Karolos Grohmann, Leika Kihara, Sakura Murakami, Lusha Zhang and Huizhong Wu; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Jon Boyle and Angus MacSwan)

Tokyo 2020 delay looms after Canada and Australia exit

By Steve Keating and Leika Kihara

TORONTO/TOKYO (Reuters) – Major sporting nations Australia and Canada withdrew from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Monday as organizers faced global pressure to postpone the Games due to the coronavirus crisis for the first time in their 124-year modern history.

Putting back the July 24-Aug. 9 event, as is looking inevitable, would be a massive blow for host Japan which has pumped in more than $12 billion of investment.

Huge sums are also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.

But a groundswell of concern from athletes – already struggling to train as gyms, stadiums and swimming pools close around the world – appears to be tipping the balance, along with the cancellation of other major sports events.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government have both edged back from weeks of blanket insistence the Games would go ahead, announcing a month-long consultation over other scenarios including postponement.

The Olympics have never before been delayed, though they were canceled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the World Wars, and major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984 respectively.

“The moment the IOC indicates that it is thinking about other solutions, it has already decided to delay the Games,” said French Olympic Committee president Denis Masseglia.

Canada and Australia both bluntly said they would not participate if the Games were not put back to 2021 and Britain may follow suit.

“We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport,” said Canada’s Olympic Committee (COC) and Paralympic Committee (CPC) in a statement.

“STRESS AND UNCERTAINTY”

“Our athletes have been magnificent in their positive attitude to training and preparing, but the stress and uncertainty have been extremely challenging for them,” said Australia’s Olympics Chef de Mission, Ian Chesterman.

Paralympic athletes were considered at particular risk from the epidemic given some had underlying health problems. More than 14,600 people have died globally from the coronavirus.

Russia urged global sporting authorities to avoid “panic” over the Olympics and U.S. President Donald Trump expressed confidence in Japan to make the “proper” call.

But a raft of other nations and sports bodies piled pressure on the IOC – and its powerful president Thomas Bach, a former Olympic fencing champion – to make a quick decision on postponement.

“The faster the decision the better it is for the entire Olympic movement,” Greece’s Olympic head, Spyros Capralos, a former water polo player, told Reuters.

“I understand where the athletes are coming from … When you cannot train you are stressed, you live in agony which is disastrous. Postponement is inevitable.”

Athletes were sad but broadly supportive of a delay.

“The right choice was made, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” said Canadian world champion swimmer Maggie MacNeil, who was hoping to make her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

“Sometimes you just need a good hug.”

ABE AND BACH UNDER PRESSURE

Japanese authorities seemed to be bowing to the inevitable despite the losses and logistics headaches it would entail.

“We may have no option but to consider postponing,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was hoping for a boom in tourism and consumer spending, told parliament.

The organizing committee was already scaling back the torch relay to avoid crowds, NHK broadcaster said.

Both Japan and the IOC have stressed that calling off the Games entirely is not an option.

But finding a new date could be complicated as the summer 2021 calendar is already crowded, while 2022 will see the soccer World Cup and the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Japanese sponsors, from Toyota Motor Corp to Panasonic Corp, were nervously watching. But Tokyo stocks sensitive to the success of the Olympics surged on Monday, after sharp falls in prior weeks, thanks to expectations of a delay rather than a cancellation.

Ad agency Dentsu Group shares jumped 12%.

Postponement could be a major blow to the IOC’s prestige after weeks of saying the Games would go ahead as planned.

Many athletes already felt disrespected during the Russian doping scandal when Bach ensured Russians could carry on competing, albeit as neutrals. Now his strong grip on the IOC could weaken after various national committees distanced themselves from his stance over Tokyo.

“IOC President Thomas Bach’s stubbornness and arrogance have spectacularly failed in this instance and he has weakened the Olympic movement,” British Olympic gold medal track cyclist Callum Skinner wrote on Twitter.

Bach is up for re-election in 2021.

Global Athlete Group said the IOC’s planned, month-long consultation was irresponsible. “Over the next four weeks the world is going to increasingly shut down, the COVID-19 virus will sadly take more lives, and without a clear answer, athletes are still being indirectly asked to train,” it said.

(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux worldwide; Writing by Karolos Grohmann and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean)

Schools shut, travel curbed as world races to fight coronavirus

By Colin Packham and Parisa Hafezi

SYDNEY/DUBAI (Reuters) – Governments battling coronavirus epidemics from Iran to Australia shut schools, canceled big events and stocked up on medical supplies on Thursday in a race to contain the outbreak’s rapid global spread.

For the first time, new infections reported around the world surpassed those in mainland China, where the flu-like disease emerged two months ago from an illegal wildlife market but is on the decline after an aggressive containment campaign.

In Japan, where cases rose to 200, there was particular concern after a female tour bus guide tested positive for a second time – one of very few worldwide to do so.

Tokyo has halted big gatherings and sports events for two weeks, and is closing schools early for the spring break. But it still plans to go ahead with the 2020 Olympics, whose cancellation or relocation would be a massive blow for Japan.

The coronavirus has mainly battered China, causing 78,596 cases and 2,746 deaths. But it has spread to another 44 countries with 3,246 cases and 51 deaths reported.

Though meeting the dictionary definition of a pandemic – widespread contagion across a large region – the World Health Organization (WHO) has so far held back from using that term.

“This virus has pandemic potential,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva. “This is not a time for fear. This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives no

MACRON: CRISIS COMING

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered hospitals to ensure sufficient medical supplies, protective gear and staff. U.S. President Donald Trump put his vice president, Mike Pence, in charge of America’s response, while France’s President Emmanuel Macron rallied the nation.

“We have a crisis before us. An epidemic is on its way,” Macron said at a Paris hospital where a 60-year-old Frenchman this week became the second person to die from the coronavirus in France.

Germany, too, has warned of an impending endemic. And Greece, which is a gateway for refugees from the Middle East and beyond, announced tighter border controls, with particular attention on islands used by migrants.

Spooked by the impact on China, the heart of corporate supply chains, and the increasing effect on other countries, stocks sank deeper into the red and oil prices fell.

Global markets have dropped for six straight days, wiping out more than $3.6 trillion in value.

“All of us are very worried about what is currently happening with respect to the spread of the coronavirus,” European Central Bank (ECB) executive board member Isabel Schnabel said during a speech in London.

Klaas Knot, seen as one the ECB’s most hawkish members, also expressed concern but noted that after the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, also originating in China, its economy then rebounded to grow from the world’s sixth to its second biggest now.

A rash of countries have had their first cases in recent days, the latest being Denmark with a man back from a ski holiday in Italy, and Estonia with someone returning from Iran.

There is no cure for the virus that can lead to pneumonia, and a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.

New cases in South Korea took its total to 1,261 with 12 deaths, while Europe’s hotspot Italy had 453 infections and 12 deaths, and Iran reported 245 cases and 26 fatalities.

In Singapore, authorities said a 12-year-old student at the elite Raffles Institution school was among the three new cases confirmed on Thursday, taking the city state’s tally of infections to 96.

MISINFORMATION ‘EPIDEMIC’

Urging people to avoid unnecessary travel, Tehran extended its closure of cinemas, cultural events and conferences for another week. Iran’s outbreak has added to the isolation of a nation already under U.S. sanctions.

Desperate to stave off a probable recession, Italy warned that the “epidemic of misleading information” could do worse harm than the virus itself.

The coronavirus has played havoc with global aviation and tourism as airlines cancel flights, countries ban visitors from hot spots and nervous passengers put off travel.

The United States is managing 59 cases – most Americans repatriated from a cruise ship quarantined in Japan where almost 700 cases developed. But Trump said the risk was “very low” in the United States which was “very, very ready”.

Chinese authorities said the number of new deaths stood at 29 on Thursday, its lowest daily tally since Jan. 28. There were just 433 new cases in mainland China over the previous day, compared to 586 in nations and territories elsewhere.

 

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Yilei Sun and Lusha Zhang in Beijing, Daniel Leussink in Tokyo, Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, Parisa Hafez in Dubai, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Sudip Kar-Gupta and Michel Rose in Paris, Crispian Balmer and Gavin Jones in Rome; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Russia banned from Olympics, soccer World Cup for doctoring dope tests

By Brian Homewood and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

LAUSANNE/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia was banned from the world’s top sporting events for four years on Monday, including the next summer and winter Olympics and the 2022 soccer World Cup, for tampering with doping tests.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) executive committee acted after concluding that Moscow had planted fake evidence and deleted files linked to positive doping tests in laboratory data that could have helped identify drug cheats.

The decision was a huge blow to the pride of a nation that has traditionally been a powerhouse in many sports but whose reputation has been tarnished by a series of doping scandals.

“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

“The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA’s reinstatement conditions…demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today,” he said in a statement.

The impact of the unanimous decision was felt immediately, with WADA confirming that the Russian national team could not take part in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar under the Russian flag and could only participate as neutrals.

“If they qualify, a team representing Russia cannot participate, but if there is a mechanism put in place, then they can apply to participate on a neutral basis, not as representatives of Russia,” Jonathan Taylor, chair of WADA’s compliance review committee, told a news conference.

It was not clear how that might work in practice. FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, said it was in contact with WADA to clarify the extent of the decision.

The ban also means that Russian sportsmen and sportswomen will not be able to perform at the Olympics in Tokyo next year under their own flag and national anthem.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has come under attack for not taking a harder line on Russian doping, said it fully backed the ruling by the Swiss-based WADA.

“The representatives of the Olympic Movement today supported this unanimous decision in the WADA Executive Committee, which is in line with the statement made by the IOC Executive Board last week and endorsed by the Olympic Summit,” the IOC said.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic organizing committee said it would welcome all athletes as long as they were clean. It would also work with relevant organizations to fully implement anti-doping measures, Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said in a statement.

Russia has been embroiled in doping scandals since a 2015 report commissioned by WADA found evidence of mass doping in Russian athletics.

Its woes have only grown since, with many of its athletes sidelined from the past two Olympics and the country stripped of its flag altogether at last year’s Pyeongchang Winter Games as punishment for state-sponsored doping cover-ups at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Monday’s sanctions, which also include a four-year ban on Russia hosting major sporting events, were recommended by WADA’s compliance review committee in response to the doctored laboratory data provided by Moscow earlier this year.

One of the conditions for the reinstatement of Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, which was suspended in 2015 in the wake of the athletics doping scandal but reinstated last year, had been that Moscow provide an authentic copy of the laboratory data.

The sanctions effectively strip the agency of its accreditation.

The punishment leaves the door open for clean Russian athletes to compete at big international events without their flag or anthem for the next four years, something they did at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

“This protects the rights of Russian athletes by allowing re-entry for those able to demonstrate they are not implicated in any way (in doping),” Reedie told a news conference.

“The decision is designed to punish the guilty parties…it stands strong against those who cheated the system.”

Some Russian officials have tried to cast WADA’s behavior as part of what they say is a broader Western attempt to hold back the country.

Igor Lebedev, a lawmaker and deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said on Monday the move was a serious blow to Russian sport that required a tough response from Russian authorities, the RIA news agency reported.

If RUSADA appeals WADA’s punishment, the case will be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Some thought the sanctions did not go far enough.

Travis Tygart, head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and long a vocal critic of WADA’s handling of the issue, blasted it for failing to impose a blanket ban.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes,” said Tygart in a statement. “WADA promised the world back in 2018 that if Russia failed yet again to live up to its agreements, it would use the toughest sanction under the rules.

“Yet, here we go again; WADA says one thing and does something entirely different.”

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)

Public reports ‘clearly show’ Assad’s use of chemical weapons: McMaster

National security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster speaks at the FDD National Security Summit in Washington, U.S., October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Idrees Ali and Thomas Escritt

MUNICH (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Saturday that, despite denials, public reports showed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was using chemical weapons, and added that it was time for the international community to hold the Syrian government to account.

“Public accounts and photos clearly show that Assad’s chemical weapons use is continuing,” McMaster said at a major international security conference taking place in Munich.

“It is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions and support the efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” he said.

McMaster did not specify which public accounts or pictures he was referring to.

Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Syrian government had repeatedly used chlorine gas, but stressed that the U.S. did not have evidence of sarin gas use.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “France will strike” if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties, but that he had not yet seen proof this is the case.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and said it targets only armed rebels and militants.

In recent weeks, rescue workers, aid groups and the United States have accused Syria of repeatedly using chlorine gas as a weapon against civilians in Ghouta and Idlib.

Earlier this month, Syrian government forces, who are backed by Russia and Iran, bombarded the areas, two of the last major rebel-held parts of Syria.

Diplomatic efforts have made scant progress towards ending a war now approaching its eighth year, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes.

NORTH KOREA

McMaster called on the international community to do more on North Korea.

“We must pressure the Kim regime, using all available tools, to ensure that this cruel dictatorship cannot threaten the world with the most destructive weapons on earth,” he said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The United States has appeared to endorse closer post-Olympics engagement between North and South Korea with an eye to eventual U.S.-North Korean talks, but has agreed with Seoul that sanctions must be intensified to push Pyongyang to negotiate an end to its nuclear weapons program.

The prospect of negotiations comes after months of tension over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, in which U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader traded insults and threats, while the U.N. tightened sanctions.

“Nations that evade full enforcement and fail to take these steps are acting irresponsibly, now is the time to do more,” McMaster said, calling on countries to cut off military and commercial ties with Pyongyang.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Andrea Shalal and Andrew Bolton)