Because of a viral emergency, spectators will be prohibited from entering Olympic venues in Tokyo, Japan’s Olympic minister declared on Thursday, meaning the Olympic Games will be held primarily behind closed doors.
“We reached an agreement on no spectators at venues in Tokyo,” Tamayo Marukawa said after talks involving local and national government officials, organisers and Olympic and Paralympic chiefs.
Most Olympic competition will happen in Tokyo, but a few events will be held outside the Japanese capital.
Fans from outside Japan have been barred for several months, and the new measures outlined by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga might clear venues — both indoor and outdoor — of all fans.
The IOC President, Thomas Bach, arrived in Tokyo on Thursday just hours before the new sanctions were revealed, thus the emergency declaration came as an unpleasant welcome. He will spend three days in self-isolation at a five-star hotel where IOC members are housed.
According to Suga, the state of emergency will take effect on Monday and will run until August 22. This implies that the Olympics, which begin on July 23 and end on August 8, will be held fully under emergency conditions. On August 24, the Paralympic Games begin.
“Taking into consideration the impact of the delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures,” Suga said.
Suga, who had long favored fans, had hinted earlier today at a no-fan Olympics in announcing the state of emergency.
“I have already said I won’t hesitate to have no spectators,” he added.
All Fans banned from Olympic Games venues in Tokyo
Organizers and the IOC only authorized venues to be filled to 50% full two weeks ago, with crowds not exceeding 10,000. The state of emergency has compelled a last-minute turnaround, which was always a possibility if the diseases worsened.
The emergency’s major focus is a request that bars, restaurants, and karaoke parlors that provide alcohol close. A prohibition on serving alcohol is a critical step in reducing Olympic-related celebrations and preventing people from drinking and partying. Stay-at-home requests are expected from Tokyo residents, who will be able to watch the games on TV from their homes.
“How to stop people enjoying the Olympics from going out for drinks is a main issue,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said.
The no-fan atmosphere could include the opening ceremony at the $1.4 billion National Stadium, which is traditionally the most watched event during the Olympics.
The current state of emergency will be lifted on Sunday. On Thursday, Tokyo recorded 896 new cases, up from 673 the week before. It’s the 19th day in a row that cases have surpassed the seven-day high. On Wednesday, there were 920 new cases reported, the highest number since 1,010 on May 13.
The uptick in infections has also forced the Tokyo city government to pull the Olympic torch relay off capital streets, allowing it to run only on remote islands off the Tokyo coast. It’s unclear how the torch will enter the stadium for the opening ceremony.
“The infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it,” Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, said.
He urged authorities to quickly take tough measures ahead of the Olympics, with summer vacations approaching.
Omi had repeatedly called for a ban on spectators, and has said it’s “abnormal” to hold the Olympics during a pandemic.
Separately, a government COVID-19 advisory panel met Wednesday and expressed concerns about the ongoing resurgence of the infections.
“Two-thirds of the infections in the capital region are from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of the infections to neighboring areas,” said Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The Olympics are pushing ahead against most medical advice, partially because the postponement stalled the IOC’s income flow. It gets almost 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights, and estimates suggest it would lose $3 billion to $4 billion if the Olympics were canceled.
Approximately 11,000 Olympians and 4,400 Paralympians are anticipated to arrive in Japan, together with tens of thousands of officials, judges, administrators, sponsors, broadcasters, and media. According to the IOC, more than 80% of residents of the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.
Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared with 47.4% in the United States and almost 50% in Britain.
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