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Tokyo skyline and the white-rimmed Olympic Stadium, the main venue. Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

A dispatch from the plane on the way from San Francisco to Tokyo.

Of course, there was a fresh hurdle at the airport. Overnight, the Tokyo Olympics organizers sent what was supposed to be a reassuring note. But I missed that part. It was another new form to fill out — a web questionnaire that generated a QR code.

When I went to check in at United, Japanese authorities wanted a written pledge that I hadn't filled out. So I went from the check-in line to an airport vendor charging $5 for computer rental, plus $1 per page. I printed out the necessary page, did the Web questionnaire and printed out the resulting QR code.

Once I checked in and got to the gate, there were a variety of folks in Team USA gear and Canada apparel.

  • One was a trap shooter for Team USA and his press attaché. I noticed one water polo player who had a name tag. It turned out the entire USA men's water polo team was on the flight, as were members of the Canadian track team and a couple of Team USA table tennis players.

As we boarded, the gate agent went over a few logistics and then issued a welcome to the members of Team USA, who started chanting: "USA!"

  • One of the flyers said: "And Canada!"
  • To which a member of the Canadian delegation replied: "Sitting here quietly in the corner, like we usually do."

The flight itself was uneventful, as everyone tried to get a bit of sleep before the real adventure begins.

  • By the way, at the airport, I can expect a variety of document checks and an immediate rapid COVID test, in addition to the two tests I took in the 96 hours before I left.

With an hour and a half to go, I was able to get WiFi. Among my emails was the note from the Japanese government that my "activity plan" listing everywhere I plan to go the first 14 days had been approved.

  • That's become the status quo: Most people's plans don't get approved until they are en route to Tokyo.

4am ET update: I'm off the plane. Sitting in a pleasant quarantine area with the water polo team and officials and a Canadian steeplechase runner as we wait for our next COVID test. Highlighting one of the biggest risks of all — being exposed on the plane over.

6:30am ET update: Still waiting in a converted ANA lounge, along with most of the rest of our flight, for the results from our "rapid" tests. It's less rapid when a bunch of planes lands at once all filled with Olympic participants.

7:30am ET update: Still waiting for results ...

8:40am ET update: My test is negative. I made it through the remaining immigration and customs hurdles. I was welcomed to Tokyo by Nintendo’s Bowser, and I'm now waiting for the media bus to the media hub and a second bus or taxi will then take me to the hotel.

I was welcomed to Tokyo by Nintendo’s Bowser. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Go deeper

Updated Sep 28, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Demand for rapid tests high as Minnesota kids go back to school

At-home tests are becoming increasingly difficult to find despite manufacturers boosting production as COVID-19 cases rise in schools and employers increase monitoring. Photo Illustration: Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you're feeling sick — or worried about a COVID-19 exposure — and looking for a quick answer, you might be out of luck.

What's happening: Renewed demand for COVID-19 testing is making it tougher and slower to get results for some popular types of tests.

  • Many local pharmacies are booked several days out for "rapid" tests, and at-home ones can be hard to find.
  • We tried a half dozen pharmacies around the metro, including a suburban Walmart, last week to no avail. One worker told Axios all the Walgreens in the metro were sold out of the at-home tests.

Plus: While more than 95% of results for the rapid saliva tests offered via the state's testing program with Vault Health are still available within 24 hours, per a company spokesperson, the median turnaround time is up.

  • It was five hours from when the sample lands at the lab this summer — the latest available data shows it clocking in at nine hours now. That doesn't include the time it takes for the sample to get from the test site to the lab, which can vary based on location and time of day.
  • Minnesota health officials said they've heard anecdotally that tests from pharmacies and other doctors' offices take 24-72 hours for results, but "it is possible that turnaround times are longer now than they were previously."

Why it matters: Testing is key to curbing COVID's spread and allowing us to responsibly go about our regular lives as the Delta variant circulates.

  • Many parents want rapid test results so they can get their kids back to school or other activities after a classroom exposure. While the more accurate nose-swab polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests remain available, at-home tests that deliver results in minutes — versus days — can be especially helpful.

The big picture: At-home tests remain in very short supply nationwide, state health commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Friday, but there's still "plenty of capacity" for lab-based tests.

Zoom in: Statewide, testing levels are close to double what they were this time last year, per MDH.

  • Vault had processed 86,000 tests as of Sept. 20— up from 34,000 in July but far below the peak of 372,000 logged in November 2020.

Between the lines: The spread of Delta and testing requirements for workplaces, concerts, travel and more have caused demand to surge nationwide.

  • In Minnesota, school-related cases — and therefore exposures — are also up. Families filled many of the testing booths at a humming state-run site at MSP late Saturday afternoon.

What they're saying: St. Paul mom Kate-Madonna Sieger tweeted about her frustration with a "total and utter lack of resources for parents that want to do the right thing … but are stuck in backup [testing] hell" after initially facing a three-day wait for her 9-year-old's results.

1 hour ago - World

Iran agrees to resume Vienna nuclear talks in November

Ali Bagheri (R) with Enrique Mora in Tehran on Oct. 14. Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry handout via Getty

Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator said following a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that Iran would resume negotiations in Vienna before the end of November, with the exact date to be set next week.

Why it matters: The Vienna talks have been frozen since Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June. This is the most direct commitment from Raisi's government to return to the negotiating table.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats' billionaires tax explained

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).