With 30 days to go until the start of an Olympic Games dogged by the coronavirus pandemic and controversy, Tokyo Olympics organizers decided on Wednesday against selling alcohol at venues, backtracking on an earlier plan to allow alcohol after facing a barrage of criticism.
Organizers had earlier been considering a plan to allow alcoholic drinks at games venues starting in about a month, with some restrictions, including time limits, for selling them. That plan had apparently been made in consideration of a sponsorship contract with alcoholic beverage company Asahi Breweries.
The initial plan, however, provoked a public outcry earlier this week, with the hashtag “cancel the Olympic Games” garnering tens of thousands of tweets.
“Following experts’ advice, the organizing committee decided against selling and drinking alcohol drinks at the venues so as to prevent spread of infections,” Tokyo Olympics President Seiko Hashimoto told reporters, adding that sponsor Asahi Breweries agreed with the decision to ban alcohol sales.
Alcohol sales have been restricted in and around Tokyo after health officials warned drinking would encourage close contact, loud speaking and mingling in bars that could help spread the virus.
Also Wednesday, new anti-coronavirus guidelines for ticket holders were released, including one saying that people who have body temperatures of 37.5 C or higher, or those who are displaying symptoms such as fevers, will not be permitted entry.
Wednesday’s decision on alcohol came after Hashimoto earlier had defended organizers’ decision to allow spectators into Olympic venues.
Japanese medical experts said last Friday that banning spectators was the least risky option but also included in their report recommendations on how to host the games if spectators were admitted.
Organizers said Monday up to 10,000 domestic spectators would be allowed into venues. Foreign visitors are banned.
“We decided that it would be better to do the best preparations we can for a games with spectators,” Hashimoto said at a media roundtable Tuesday, adding that the decision was in line with the medical experts’ recommendations.
“Of course, I understand that holding the event without spectators would lower the risk, but there is evidence that there have been no clusters at other events and tournaments,” Hashimoto said.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has still not ruled out holding the games without spectators if Tokyo is put back under a state of emergency, from which it only emerged on June 21. The games’ opening ceremony is set for July 23.
Over the past year organizers have pushed ahead with preparations for the games, postponed from 2020 because of the pandemic, despite strong concerns among the Japanese public that hosting thousands of delegations from across the globe could result in further outbreaks of COVID-19 infections.
Many Japanese remain skeptical about the possibility of holding even a scaled-down games safely during a pandemic.
In another blow to organizers’ pledge that the games will be safe, a member of the Ugandan delegation who arrived in Japan on the weekend tested positive for coronavirus despite having been vaccinated and testing negative for COVID-19 before arrival.
The nine-strong delegation cancelled their plans to train and are currently quarantining in a hotel, local media reported.
Hashimoto said the incident was proof of the effectiveness of the coronavirus measures in place.
“We were able to identify this person at the border precisely because we have the proper border measures in place,” she said.
But the arduous preparations for the Olympics also appeared to have taken its toll on organizers.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike was hospitalized on Tuesday. The metropolitan government said earlier on Tuesday evening that she would take the rest of the week off due to fatigue.
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