Tokyo Olympics: Organisers to ban spectators at Games as Japan declares COVID-19 emergency


Olympic organisers are set to ban all spectators from the Games, the Asahi daily said on Thursday (July 8), as Japan prepared to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo that will run through its hosting of the event to curb a new wave of coronavirus infections. Organisers were set to formally reach the decision on the spectators during five-way talks between key parties to be held on Thursday evening, the newspaper said, citing people involved in the Games.

The move is the latest blow to the troubled Olympics, already delayed by a year because of the pandemic and plagued by a series of setbacks, including massive budget overruns. Medical experts have said for weeks that having no spectators at the Games would be the least risky option amid widespread public concern that the influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.

Organisers have already banned overseas spectators and have for now set a cap on domestic viewers at 50 per cent of capacity, up to 10,000 people. Anyone wanting to support athletes has been told to do so by clapping rather than cheering or singing. Public viewing sites have been cancelled and companies, wary of public opposition, have been hesitant about advertising related to the Games, adding to a subdued mood in the Japanese capital.

The evening talks are to be chaired by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who arrives in Tokyo on Thursday. Other participants include the Tokyo and national governments and Paralympic officials. Japan has not experienced the kind of explosive COVID-19 outbreaks seen in many other countries but has had more than 810,000 cases and 14,900 deaths.

A slow vaccine rollout has meant only a quarter of Japan’s population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot. The imposition of a new state of emergency in Tokyo comes after new daily infections in the capital rose to 920 on Wednesday, the highest level since mid-May.

Japan`s economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who heads the government`s coronavirus response, said the new restrictions will begin on July 12 and run through August 22.

The Games are scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8. Tokyo is currently under slightly less strict ‘quasi emergency’ curbs. Under the heightened restrictions, restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, Nishimura said.

Areas neighbouring Tokyo where some Olympic events are also slated to take place, such as Chiba and Kanagawa, are set to remain under ‘quasi emergency’ through August 22.

Underscoring the last-minute nature of the preparations, organisers have presented various spectator scenarios to Olympic sponsors as late as Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the situation. Sponsors were told that in the case of a no-spectator scenario, all sports and opening and closing ceremonies will likely be carried out without fans, including tickets allocated to the sponsors.

The lack of crowds may further strain the Games’ budget, which has already blown out to an estimated $15.4 billion, with ticket revenues of around $815 million expected to take a big hit.

The organising committee did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Until this week, officials have insisted they could organise the Games safely with some spectators, but a ruling party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some allies of Suga attributed to public anger over the Olympics, had forced the change of tack, sources said.

Japan will hold a parliamentary election later this year and the government’s insistence that the Games – postponed last year as the virus spread around the world – should go ahead this year could cost it at the ballot box, they said.

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