Japan’s top-ranked sumo wrestler Hakuho has tested positive for coronavirus, the BBC is reporting.
The Mongolian-born grand champion took a Covid-19 test after losing his sense of smell, the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) said.
Activities like sumo wrestling have continued despite the pandemic, but cases have emerged in the sport too. In April, Shobushi, a 28-year-old Japanese wrestler became the first sumo to test positive for the virus. His condition quickly worsened, and he died due to multiple organ failure.
Hakuho – the longest-serving yokozuna or top-ranked wrestler in Japan – was preparing for the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, due to start in Tokyo on Sunday.
He will now seek the advice of specialists while the other wrestlers in his stable will also be tested, the JSA said.
His infection comes after 11 members of the Arashio stable tested positive last week following the infection of top-division wrestler Wakatakakage, the Straits Times reports.
Hakuho has been dealing with a knee injury and has not completed a tournament since March, when he won the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka.
He withdrew from three straight tournaments this year, and was given an official warning by the JSA along with fellow yokozuna Kakuryu in November for repeated absences. The warning is the sport’s strongest rebuke, short of recommending retirement.
On Tuesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that a possible state of emergency declaration for Tokyo and the surrounding area would be decided on Thursday, according to local media reports.
Japan has recorded nearly 250,000 coronavirus cases and more than 3,500 deaths since the start of the pandemic. While these figures are vastly lower than countries like the UK and US, the Japanese government has been concerned by what it has described as a “very severe” third wave of infections.
The spike in cases is casting fresh doubt over whether Japan can still host the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer. Last week, Suga said the games would go ahead and be “safe and secure”.
Japan first imposed a state of emergency last year in spring. There were no penalties for non-compliance and the country has avoided the stringent lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.