COVID-19

Olympics to ban spectators as Tokyo declares COVID-19 emergency – report

Reuters
Olympics to ban spectators as Tokyo declares COVID-19 emergency – report

Pedestrians wearing protective masks, following the COVID-19 outbreak, walk in front of the National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan, on July 7, 2021.

Kim Kyung-hoon/Reuters

(1st UPDATE) The new restrictions in Tokyo, under which restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, will begin on July 12 and run through to August 22

Olympics organizers are set to ban all spectators from the Games, the Asahi daily said on Thursday, July 8, as Japan declared a coronavirus state of emergency for Tokyo that will run through its hosting of the event to curb a new wave of infections.

Organizers were set to formally reach the decision on spectators during talks on Thursday, the newspaper said, citing people involved in the Games. Organizers said they would have a news conference at 10:45 pm (1345 GMT) following the discussions, but gave no further details.

If confirmed, the ban on spectators would mark the latest blow to the troubled event, 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 would be the least risky option, amid widespread public fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.

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.

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 organizers, sources told Reuters.

Thursday’s talks, scheduled for 8 pm (1100 GMT) 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.

“We need to strengthen our countermeasures,” Suga said.

“Given the situation, we will issue a state of emergency for Tokyo.”

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 rollout has meant only a quarter of the population has had at least one COVID-19 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, July 12, and run through to August 22.

The Games are scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8.

Underscoring the last-minute nature of preparations, organizers presented various spectator scenarios to Olympic sponsors as late as Wednesday, July 7, 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 $15.4 billion, with ticket revenues of about $815 million expected to dwindle to close to zero.

The organizing committee did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Until this week, officials have insisted they could organize the Games safely with some spectators, but a ruling party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, July 4, 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 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. – Rappler.com

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