The 30-second scenario where Olympic athletes are allowed to ditch their face masks

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Medalists Austria�s Anna Kiesenhofer (Gold), Netherland�s Annemiek van Vleuten (Silver) and Italy�s Elisa Longo Borghini (Bronze) during the medal ceremony after the Women's Road Race at the Fuji International Speedway on the second day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Picture date: Sunday July 25, 2021.
Austria's Anna Kiesenhofer (gold), the Netherlands' Annemiek van Vleuten (silver) and Italy's Elisa Longo Borghini (bronze) at the medal ceremony for the women's road race on Sunday. Masks are briefly allowed to be taken off for a photo opportunity. (PA)

As the Tokyo Games gets under-way, the message has been clear: all Olympic athletes and staff must wear a face mask at all times.

But on Sunday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed one 30-second exception will be allowed.

It comes amid continued concerns around coronavirus protocols at the Games, with 1,979 cases reported in Tokyo metropolitan area on Thursday, the highest since January. A further 1,763 infections were recorded on Sunday.

Athletes, staff and media personnel at the Games have been told they have to wear masks in all the venues, both inside and out, including during medal ceremonies.

However, the IOC announced a new policy on Sunday where medal-winning athletes are briefly allowed to remove masks on the podium for a photo opportunity.

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On wearing masks, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said: "It's not a nice to have. It's a must to have.

"No, there is no relaxation and we would urge and ask everyone to obey the rules.

"It's important for the sports, for everyone involved and for our Japanese friends and it would send a strong message."

But the IOC confirmed athletes can briefly take them off on the podium for 30 seconds for a photo opportunity.

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 25: Gold medalist Chase Kalisz of USA, silver medalist Jay Litherland  of USA, bronze medalist Brendon Smith of Australia during the medals ceremony of the 400m individual medley final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Gold medalist Chase Kalisz, silver medalist Jay Litherland and bronze medalist Brendon Smith following the men's 400m individual medley final. (Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Following Sunday morning's swimming finals, American Chase Kalisz took off his mask on the winners' podium after his gold medal performance in the men's 400m medley.

He was standing next to mask-less compatriot and silver medallist Jay Literland and Australian Brendon Smith, who took the bronze and also removed his mask.

The trio had also posed for photos with masks on.

"The swimmers in the venue this morning followed instructions which they were given by the protocol team," an IOC spokesperson said.

"These instructions were in line with a new policy which in the process of being communicated to all."

"It allows for a socially distanced photo opportunity for a maximum of 30 seconds on the podium."

However, there have been a number of pictures of medal ceremonies where athletes did not appear to be socially distanced.

Team Australia, meanwhile, also said its athletes had done nothing wrong.

"Our athletes were simply following the direction of the official at the podium, who holds up a sign saying masks off briefly for the photographs," an official said.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Swimming - Women's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay - Medal Ceremony - Tokyo Aquatics Centre - Tokyo, Japan - July 25, 2021. Gold medalists Emma McKeon of Australia, Meg Harris of Australia, Cate Campbell of Australia and Bronte Campbell of Australia wearing face masks celebrate on the podium REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Australia women's swimming relay gold medalists Emma McKeon, Meg Harris, Cate Campbell and Bronte Campbell wearing face masks on the podium. They also posed for pictures without masks. (Reuters)

The Tokyo Olympics are being held mostly without spectators as the capital has seen a rise in daily COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

The Olympic teams of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had paraded mostly maskless through the National Stadium at Friday's opening ceremony, making an awkward contrast with other national teams who covered their faces in line with COVID protocols.

Organisers, meanwhile, announced another 10 positive COVID cases to Games-related individuals on Sunday, bringing the total to 132 since 1 July.

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