• Kyodo, JIJI, staff report

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Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Saturday that all live public viewing events during this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics in the capital will be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After holding talks with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the governor told reporters that some of the six venues planned to be used for the screenings will instead be used for COVID-19 vaccinations.

The cancellation is “necessary for holding the Tokyo Games successfully,” Koike told reporters. According to Koike, the prime minister showed understanding for the cancellation.

Instead of public viewing sites, the governor said, “We’ll use the internet to promote the games.”

The announcement was made with just about one month to go until the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, with public concern about a potential spike in coronavirus cases driven by more contagious new variants remaining strong, while Japan’s vaccination rate is still low compared with many other developed countries.

The venues included Yoyogi, Inokashira and Hibiya parks in the capital, which on Saturday reported 388 new COVID-19 infections.

Across the country, 1,520 new cases were reported on Saturday, down from more than 7,000 daily at the peak of the fourth wave in early to mid-May, but the pace of decline has slowed in recent days.

The meeting between Suga and Koike, the first since May 21, came ahead of an online meeting Monday by organizers of the Olympics and Paralympics at which they will decide on a limit on spectators at the games.

Koike said she has gained support over the cancellation of the public events from the prime minister and agreed with him that the pace of the country’s vaccination rollout has to be accelerated.

In connection with the online meeting, which will be attended by Koike and other representatives of the organizers, she said, “I exchanged opinions (with Suga) on what would happen if we looked again at the overall picture and also provided information.”

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike speaks to reporters at the metropolitan government headquarters on Saturday. | KYODO
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike speaks to reporters at the metropolitan government headquarters on Saturday. | KYODO

After deciding Thursday to end a COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and eight other prefectures, Suga, speaking at a news conference, expressed his willingness to stage the games with some spectators.

But the nation’s top COVID-19 adviser, Shigeru Omi, has stressed that fans shouldn’t be allowed to attend.

Banning all spectators is the safest way to host the Tokyo Games, according to a report published Friday by Omi, chair of the central government’s coronavirus subcommittee, and 25 other experts.

The government has said it will allow up to 10,000 people at large events in Japan, as long as they do not exceed 50% of venue capacity, in areas that are not under a state of emergency or a quasi-state of emergency.

The government is considering applying the policy also to the Olympics, due to begin July 23, and the Paralympics.

Organizers, government officials and public health experts continue to debate whether spectators should be allowed to attend.

Tokyo and six of the prefectures will shift to a quasi-state of emergency on Monday and will remain under it until July 11. Serving alcohol at restaurants and bars, currently banned, will be conditionally allowed until 7 p.m.

The Olympic torch relay is scheduled to approach Tokyo on July 9, but the metropolitan government is considering canceling the event on public roads, according to officials.

Since the relay started in late March, it has been scaled down in a number of areas due to the resurgence of infections, as the organizers have been struggling to turn public opinion in favor of holding the Olympics.

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