- Foreign spectators already excluded from the delayed Games
- The organizers will meet on Thursday to discuss the spectators
- Virus restrictions, public sentiment will affect decision
TOKYO, July 7 (Reuters) – Japan is considering barring access to the Olympics for all spectators, several sources told Reuters on Wednesday, with authorities having to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo to contain infections with coronavirus 16 days before the start of the Games.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said his government would decide on new measures on Thursday to stop the spread of the virus. These measures should determine whether spectators can attend Olympic events.
Medical experts have said for weeks that no spectators at the Olympics will be the least risky option amid widespread public concern that the Games will fuel further outbreaks of coronavirus infections.
Organizers have already banned foreign spectators and set a cap for domestic spectators at 50% of their capacity, up to 10,000 people, to contain the coronavirus epidemic.
Officials have wrestled with the issue for months, but a setback by the ruling party in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some Suga allies attributed to public anger over the Games, forced the change of course, sources said.
“Politically speaking, the absence of spectators is now inevitable,” a ruling party source told Reuters.
Japan will hold parliamentary elections later this year and the government’s insistence that the Games – postponed last year as the virus spread around the world – should take place this year could cost it dearly at the polls.
The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said restrictions on spectators would be based on the content of Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency or other relevant measures.
“SAFE OLYMPIC GAMES”
Speaking after Suga made his comments, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the host city would continue to prepare for “a safe Olympics” even under a new state of emergency.
Japan has not experienced the type of explosive COVID-19 outbreaks seen in many other countries, but has recorded more than 800,000 cases and 14,800 deaths.
Authorities have struggled to eradicate persistent clusters of infections, especially in and around Tokyo, which reported 920 new daily cases on Wednesday, the highest since May 13.
Slow vaccine rollout means only a quarter of the Japanese population has received at least one vaccine against COVID-19.
Suga told reporters that a decision on virus restrictions would be made on Thursday after talks with health experts. He promised to respond to the growing cases from Tokyo.
Koike said she expected Suga’s government to tighten restrictions on coronaviruses.
The Sankei daily, citing government sources, said the government was preparing to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo to contain the virus. The Nikkei newspaper later said the new emergency would last until August 22.
This could mean a spectator ban at Olympic events, as restrictions already in place in the city would be tightened beyond an initial end date of July 11. Sankei said a “near emergency” in place in three prefectures neighboring Tokyo, which will host some Olympic events, would be extended.
The Games begin July 23 and end August 8.
The government will meet with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach and Tokyo organizers on Thursday or Friday to discuss the spectator issue.
Government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said this week that Suga had raised the possibility of hosting the Games without spectators.
Earlier Wednesday, Toshiro Muto, the managing director of the organizing committee, said organizers were working to keep everyone safe with effective public health measures against COVID-19.
Muto, speaking to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva via recorded video, added: “With the successful staging of the Tokyo 2020 Games, we hope to show the world that people have the right. to live a healthier and happier life, even under difficult circumstances. . ”
Shigeru Omi, the government’s top health adviser, told a parliamentary health committee that it was important to reduce the number of Olympic officials and other participants in the events as much as possible.
Early July to September was “one of the most important times” in the fight against the coronavirus in Japan, he said.
“We say it is better for events to take place without spectators,” Omi said.
“We are asking many people to take action to prevent the spread of the infection. Pictures of spectators would send a mixed message.”
Authorities in Tokyo have also decided to move most of the torch relay, which is due to reach the capital on Friday, off public roads. Torchlighting ceremonies without spectators will take place instead.
Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Tim Kelly, Mari Saito and Antoni Slodkowski, Ju-min Park in Tokyo and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel, Jacqueline Wong and Gareth Jones
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