• Kyodo, Jiji, Staff report

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The government has decided to exclude overseas spectators from attending this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, officials with knowledge of the matter said Tuesday.

The government and the Japanese organizing committee of the Summer Games are expected to hold a remote meeting with the International Olympic Committee and two other bodies possibly next week to make a formal decision on the issue of overseas visitors.

The government has concluded that welcoming fans from abroad is not possible given concerns among the Japanese public over the coronavirus and the fact that more contagious variants have been detected in many countries, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

While Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday a decision on spectators is up to the IOC, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the games’ organizing committee, he said that Olympics minister Tamayo Marukawa, in a meeting with representatives from each, stressed the need to carefully consider whether to let in foreign spectators, citing uncertainty about the coronavirus including its variants.

Japan continues to halt new entries of foreign nationals in principle as it is taking more time than initially expected for the government to stem the number of infections, which peaked at more than 2,500 cases per day in Tokyo in early January.

With the decision, the government will also have to review its growth strategy, given that expectations for inbound visitors to revive the Japanese economy were high, especially before the games were delayed for one year due to the outbreak of the virus.

On March 3, the representatives of the five organizing bodies, which also include the International Paralympic Committee and the Tokyo metropolitan government, agreed to make a decision on overseas spectators by the end of this month.

They will then make a call in April on the number of spectators to be allowed into venues based on Japanese restrictions on attendance at large events.

While the one-year postponement of the games has caused the cost to balloon to at least ¥1.64 trillion, the organizing committee was expecting to make ¥90 billion from ticket sales.

The committee now needs to proceed with refunding foreign ticket holders and it is expected to separately consider what to do with foreign spectators to be invited by corporate sponsors of the games.

The IOC has requested that Japan accept foreign spectators from sponsor companies, sources familiar with the situation said. A government source signaled Tokyo is prepared to accept the request.

The organizing committee has not publicly disclosed the total number of tickets to be sold, but some officials have said it was likely to be over 9 million before the games were rescheduled one year ago.

While about 1 million overseas spectators were expected to enter Japan, some 4.45 million tickets have already been sold in the country, of which about 810,000 requests for refunds have been made so far.

In December, a government-led panel tasked with coming up with COVID-19 measures for the Olympics said in an interim report that overseas spectators could use public transport and be exempt from a 14-day quarantine requirement if they were from countries with relatively few virus cases.

However, the Japanese organizers studied several options in parallel, such as holding the games behind closed doors and staging them with a limited number of spectators just from Japan.

“We would really like people from around the world to come to a full stadium, but unless we are prepared to accept them and the medical situation in Japan is perfect, it will cause a great deal of trouble also to visitors from overseas,” Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Japanese committee, told reporters last week.

Hashimoto has sought to finalize whether to let visitors from abroad watch the games live in the stands at each venue before the domestic leg of the Olympic torch relay begins on March 25.

The Olympics are due to take place between July 23 and Aug. 8, followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

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