TOKYO: Olympic organisers are set to ban all spectators from the Games, the Asahi daily said on Thursday (Jul 8), as Japan declared a COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo that will run through its hosting of the event to curb a new wave of infections.
Organisers were set to formally reach the decision on spectators during five-way talks between main parties on Thursday, the newspaper said, citing people involved in the Games.
If confirmed, the ban on spectators would mark the latest blow to the troubled Olympics, delayed by a year because of the pandemic and plagued by a series of setbacks, including massive budget overruns.
Coronavirus infections were on the rise in Tokyo, due in part to the highly infectious Delta variant, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a news conference, warning that that could expand to the rest of the country.
“We absolutely must avoid Tokyo being the starting point again of another spread of the infection,” Suga told a news conference, saying there was “good progress” being made in vaccinations.
“Taking into consideration the effect of coronavirus variants and not to let the infections spread again to the rest of the nation, we need to strengthen our countermeasures,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.
“Given the situation, we will issue a state of emergency for Tokyo.”
New daily cases in Tokyo could increase to 1,000 in July and 2,000 in August, raising the risk of hospitals in the capital region running out of beds, according to recent projections from Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor working with the government’s coronavirus experts group.
Anyone wanting to support athletes has been told clap rather than cheer or sing. Sponsors are cancelling or scaling back booths and events tied to the Games, frustrated by the “very last-minute” decisions by organisers, sources told Reuters.
The talks, scheduled for 8pm, will be chaired by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, who arrived in Tokyo on Thursday. Other participants include the Tokyo and national governments and Paralympic officials.
TOKYO INFECTIONS RISE
Japan has not suffered 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 roll-out has meant that only a quarter of the population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot.
The new state of emergency in Tokyo comes as the capital announced 896 new daily infections on Thursday, near highs last seen in mid-May.
The new restrictions in Tokyo, under which restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, will begin on Monday and run through to Aug 22.
The Games are scheduled to run from Jul 23 to Aug 8.
Underscoring the last-minute nature of 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 no spectators, all sports and opening and closing ceremonies would likely be held without fans, meaning tickets allocated to sponsors could not be used.
The absence of crowds will likely further strain the Games’ budget, which has already blown out to an estimated US$15.4 billion, with ticket revenues of about US$815 million expected to take a big hit.
The organising committee did not immediately respond to an email 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.