We're heading into the final weekend of competition at the Olympics. As the Games draw to a close, here's what you need to know from Tokyo.
A "new phase" of the pandemic: Though the Olympics have, by and large, gone about as well as could be hoped for a major sporting competition held in the middle of a pandemic, the situation off the pitch and outside Tokyo 2020's many venues appears dire.
"In many areas the new positive cases are increasing at an extremely rapid pace which we have never experienced before," said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the government minister responsible for Japan’s coronavirus response.
Nishimura said the more infectious Delta variant accounts for about 90% of all cases in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Olympic organizers and Japan's leaders, including Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, have previously said they do not believe the Olympics have contributed to the surge in cases.
But some medical professionals and public health experts disagree. They see people gathering outside venues like Tokyo's Olympic Stadium and worry that a corresponding, post-Games spike in Covid-19 cases is coming — a potential catastrophe considering just how overburdened the country's medical infrastructure is.
"What we are seeing on the ground is that there is already a collapse of the medical system, and this wave has just begun, and the number of infections is expected to increase strongly next week and the week after that," said Dr. Hideaki Oka, an infectious diseases specialist.
Karate's debut: Japan's most famous martial art made its Olympic bow on Thursday, with competition scheduled to go late into the evening. The first of nine medal bouts starts at 7:30 p.m. Tokyo time (6:30 a.m. ET).
Karate's inclusion in the Olympics is set to be short-lived, as the event was excluded from the Paris 2024 Games' program.
NBA stars face-off: Today's basketball games determine who plays for gold on Saturday in Japan. Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and the rest of Team USA's star-studded roster take on Australia. The Boomers, led by NBA veterans Patty Mills and Joe Ingles, surprised the basketball world by beating the Americans in exhibition play last month. That game is followed by France vs. Slovenia, which will see the NBA's three-time defensive player of the year, Rudy Gobert, take on Luka Doncic, one of basketball's brightest young stars.
Medal update: China leads the way with 32 gold medals, followed by the United States with 27 and Japan with 21. Team USA has 83 total medals to top the combined leaderboard. China is second with 71 and the Russian Olympic Committee is third with 53.
What else is coming later in Japan:
- Athletics: The world's greatest athletes will be named when the men's decathlon and women's heptathlon wrap up their grueling two days of competition, and the women's pole vault and men's 400 meters finals will take place tonight in Tokyo.
- Women's football: Team USA and Australia will play for the bronze medal after the Americans' disappointing semifinal defeat to Canada.
- Sport climbing: The first ever medals in Olympic sport climbing will be given tonight.
The full Olympic schedule can be found here.