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After a lengthy period of indecision — and with barely a month left until the opening ceremony on July 23 — organizers announced Monday that spectators during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be limited to 10,000 fans per venue.

The long-awaited announcement came after months of back-and-forth between organizers, officials, experts and the public over the scale and scope of the once-postponed global sporting event.

Following a five-way meeting on Monday between representatives of the central government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Tokyo Organising Committee, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, Tokyo Games minister Tamayo Marukawa announced that attendance during the games will be capped at 10,000 per venue or 50% of the venue capacity — whichever figure is lower — and up to 20,000 will be allowed to attend the opening ceremony.

“As was said last week following the central government’s announcement, restrictions during the Tokyo Games will be aligned with whatever coronavirus measures are in place,” Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee, said during a news conference Monday. “The last part of the games has been decided, and the plan is now complete.”

Spectators will be asked to wear masks, refrain from cheering and travel directly to and from venues to avoid congestion, Hashimoto said, adding that live viewing sites, intended to allow residents to watch competitive events from outside the venues, will be canceled.

If a state of emergency is declared in the capital or anywhere competitive venues are located after July 12, organizers said spectator restrictions will be brought in line with whatever coronavirus measures are put in place.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday hours before the announcement that the games may be held without spectators if a state of emergency is declared in the capital or anywhere a competition venue is located.

“If a state of emergency is declared, that is a possibility,” Suga said. “We won’t hesitate to ban spectators to ensure safety and security.”

A track and field test event for the Tokyo Olympics is held without spectators at the National Stadium in Tokyo in May. | KYODO
A track and field test event for the Tokyo Olympics is held without spectators at the National Stadium in Tokyo in May. | KYODO

Initially, organizers had planned to decide how many spectators would be allowed during spring. But with infections spreading in Tokyo and other parts of the nation, they delayed the decision until this month. Overseas fans were banned in March.

Now, organizers will need to decide — in the span of a month — which ticket holders will be allowed in and which will be offered refunds.

But there are still strong concerns that allowing domestic fans will cause another virus outbreak.

On Friday, Shigeru Omi, chair of the central government’s coronavirus subcommittee, and 25 other infectious disease experts published a report saying that holding the games without any fans is the safest option.

“Holding events without any spectators involves the least amount of risk, so that would be ideal,” the report said.

In an editorial published Friday, the Mainichi Shimbun also said the games should be held without spectators, adding that organizers should not let their guard down even though the state of emergency has ended in nine prefectures.

“The state of coronavirus infections in Japan remains serious, with Tokyo’s daily infection numbers topping the levels of when the government lifted its declaration in March around the end of the third wave of infections,” Mainichi’s editorial board said.

The National Stadium in Tokyo on Friday | BLOOMBERG
The National Stadium in Tokyo on Friday | BLOOMBERG

The last day of the state of emergency in the capital was Sunday, after which it was replaced with looser contingency measures that are in place until July 11.

However, questions remain over whether local authorities can prevent or stifle a rebound in the two weeks between July 11 and the opening ceremony on July 23.

Still, preparations for the Tokyo Games are under way. On Sunday, members of the media were given a rare tour of the athletes village, where athletes will sleep, eat and rest during the Olympics and Paralympics.

Athletes will be allowed to carry alcohol into the village but they will be encouraged to drink in their rooms and refrain from mingling outside in any of the parks or outdoor facilities on the premises.

While the area and its many facilities carry the amenities typically found in an athletes village, what separates this one from past iterations is the presence of a fever clinic, where athletes will be sent if they develop a fever, cough or other symptoms that resemble those of COVID-19.

There they will receive a polymerase chain reaction test and then be isolated in a room located within the clinic to await results. If they test positive, they’ll be sent to a repurposed hotel to self-quarantine or to a hospital for treatment, depending on the severity of their symptoms.

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