As new daily COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Tokyo, Olympic organizers and the central government are beginning to weigh their options in the event that a quasi-emergency in the capital and neighboring prefectures is extended through the start of the games — a scenario that would likely reduce the maximum number of spectators allowed from 10,000 to 5,000.
"The infection situation is very bad. If this continues, (the quasi-state of emergency) will remain from July 12," a Tokyo Organising Committee official said.
Games organizers had earlier in June decided to allow up to 10,000 spectators to enter each venue, if the number does not exceed 50% of its capacity — a decision made under the assumption that the quasi-emergency measure would end on July 11 as scheduled.
But if the measure remains in place, the spectator cap will likely be reduced in line with the government's policy of allowing a maximum of 5,000 people at sporting and other large events for areas under a quasi-emergency. Prior to the quasi-emergency, Tokyo was under a full COVID-19 state of emergency for about two months from late April.
Maintaining the quasi-emergency would wreak havoc on organizers' plans, since it would require them to further whittle down the number of spectators able to attend Olympic events. Organizers have decided to hold a lottery for tickets in line with the 10,000-person cap, the results of which are due to be announced Tuesday.
But if the central government decides to extend the quasi-emergency in Tokyo just before July 11 — less than two weeks before the July 23 opening ceremony — it would be logistically "impossible," as one organizing committee executive put it, to conduct a new lottery.
In that case, organizers are looking into the option of banning spectators entirely for contests held in large venues with a maximum capacity of over 10,000 people. For venues with a maximum capacity of 10,000 or fewer, which would mean 5,000 or less have tickets, all ticket holders will be allowed in.
On Wednesday, Tokyo reported 714 new infections — the highest figure in about a month.
If cases continue to rise and the quasi-emergency is extended or another full-fledged state of emergency is declared, organizers may also need to make further changes to the second half of the 15-day Tokyo leg of the Olympic torch relay, which is scheduled to begin next week.
On Tuesday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said organizers will not hold the relay on public roads in the capital, excluding its small island areas, between July 9 and 16, adding it will decide on the format for the second half of the event in the near future.
The flame will make its entrance at the National Stadium in Tokyo on July 23 — the opening of the Olympics — after traversing the country's 47 prefectures, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing many areas to scale down their programs.
The first half of the relay in Tokyo was scheduled to take place mainly on the islands as well as the Tama area in the western suburbs of the capital.
As a result of Tuesday's decision, over 600 runners will not be able to run on public roads. They are instead set to participate in a flame lighting ceremony at the final destination of each day.
The organizers are considering holding a ceremony at Komazawa Olympic park in Setagaya Ward on July 9 to celebrate the flame's arrival in the capital.
"We have prepared with the hope of having people run on public roads, so it is really unfortunate," a Tokyo official said. "It is important to connect the flame, and we would like to have the event finish with smiles on people's faces."
Before the start of the 121-day relay in late March, about 10,000 runners were initially set to carry the Olympic flame in the country's 47 prefectures.
But many of them ended up having to pass on the flame in parks and other designated areas devoid of spectators in so-called torch kiss ceremonies.
"There's no use saying that I want to run. I just need to follow whatever decision is made," said Hideo Sato, 79, who is scheduled to carry the torch in the second half of the Tokyo leg.
In Tokyo and many other parts of the country, all mass public viewings of this summer's Olympics and Paralympics have already been canceled as part of precautions against the virus.
Despite repeated pledges by the Japanese and metropolitan governments, and the International Olympic Committee, to stage the games safely with anti-COVID-19 measures, public skepticism about the massive sporting event during a global health crisis remains strong.
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