A man drives past the New National Stadium, the main stadium for the Tokyo Olympics, on 3 June 2021 in Tokyo | Photographer: Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images via Bloomberg
A man drives past the New National Stadium, the main stadium for the Tokyo Olympics, on 3 June 2021 in Tokyo | Photographer: Yuichi Yamazaki/Bloomberg
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Tokyo: The Tokyo Olympics will ban domestic spectators in events held in Japan’s capital, revising an earlier decision to allow some fans, as the resurgence of virus cases pushed the government to declare a state of emergency in the city.

The decision, announced by Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa, comes after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a fourth state of emergency for Tokyo, running from July 12 through Aug. 22. Officials are yet to announce the status of events to be held outside the capital.

It’s a reversal from a decision last month to limit the number of spectators at either 10,000 or 50% of venue capacity, whichever is smaller.

More than half of the 43 Olympic and Paralympic venues, including the 68,000-capacity National Stadium that’s set to host the opening ceremony on July 23, are located in Tokyo. Organizers had said that a no-spectator scenario was possible, depending on the virus situation. A decision to bar fans from overseas was announced in March.

Rising cases

Daily virus numbers have been rising in Tokyo since a state of emergency ended last month, with confirmed infections on Wednesday hitting the highest since mid-May. Concerns over the pace of vaccination, which had been picking up from a slow start, have increased as the nation faces distribution issues.

While opposition to the games has slightly eased in recent weeks, an Asahi newspaper poll showed 64% of those surveyed preferred to hold the games without any spectators, while 30% said they wanted limited numbers.

Even with few spectators and the exclusion of foreign fans, a large number of people will still converge on Tokyo from more than 200 countries. Organizers have said around 53,000 officials and others, excluding athletes, are expected to attend from overseas.

The government’s top Covid-19 adviser has repeatedly said it would be preferable to hold the games without spectators and scale back attendance by other people connected to the event, who are not classified as spectators.

A ban on serving alcohol at bars and restaurants in Tokyo will be reimposed, virus policy czar Yasutoshi Nishimura said, adding that he was considering speeding up subsidies for affected businesses.

‘Unusual’ Olympics

“It will be an unusual way of staging the event amid a state of emergency,” Suga told a press conference earlier Thursday, adding that billions of people were expected to watch it on television. “I want to show from Tokyo that the human race can overcome great difficulty through hard work and wisdom.”

The return to emergency represents a political setback for Suga, who has resisted canceling the games despite opposition from much of the Japanese public. The 72-year-old premier, who faces a ruling party leadership election and a general election in the coming months, lifted the Tokyo emergency in June, despite warnings that doing so without more vaccinations could contribute to just the sort of surge the capital is now seeing.

With fans now banned from the bulk of Olympic events, alcohol restricted and authorities calling on the public to stay at home, hopes that the games might mark a psychological turning point toward post-Covid life are all but extinguished. -Bloomberg

Also read: How the Tokyo Olympics became one big public relations mess


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