The central government and other organizers of the Tokyo Olympics plan to hold a meeting possibly next week to review the policy of capping the number of spectators at 10,000 per venue, officials close to the matter said Friday, as the capital continues to grapple with a resurgence of coronavirus infections.
With just three weeks remaining until the opening of the games, representatives of the organizers could meet as early as Thursday — the day International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach is due to arrive in Japan — to discuss how best to deal with local fans, if the current quasi-state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas is extended, according to the officials.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Friday that holding the Olympics without spectators should be considered as one of the main options, as the capital continues to grapple with potentially another wave of coronavirus infections.
Appearing at a news conference for the first time since being discharged from the hospital on Wednesday following a one-week treatment for what was described as “severe fatigue,” Koike reiterated that the games’ organizers will need to review the current policy on spectators if the coronavirus situation worsens in Tokyo.
“There is no more important time for Tokyo than now,” Koike said, as the capital logged 660 new infections, an increase of roughly 100 cases from a week ago, when medical experts, including the country’s top COVID-19 adviser, have called for the games to be held behind closed doors to prevent the virus from spreading.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee, said at a separate news conference that the organizers are “prepared” to go ahead without fans in the stands if the government sets such a policy after analyzing the infection situation.
“It’s not that we want to organize the Olympics with spectators at all costs,” Hashimoto said.
She said the organizers wanted to press ahead with preparations to ensure the event could be held in a “safe and secure manner” that would restore the public’s trust.
“I don’t know what will happen to the infection situation that changes from day to day, but the organizing committee will be prepared (to hold the games) without spectators and be able to correspond to any policy that may be shown,” Hashimoto said.
The five organizing bodies of the Olympics and Paralympics decided late last month that venues can be filled to 50% of capacity with a maximum of 10,000 spectators, agreeing that the policy will be reviewed if the coronavirus pandemic situation worsens.
The organizers have already barred the participation of overseas spectators.
A blanket closed-door no-spectator option is one possibility on the table, while another option is setting the cap at 5,000.
Some officials have floated the idea of banning spectators from certain nighttime events and some at large venues with over 5,000 tickets sold.
The 10,000-spectator attendance cap was set on the premise that the ongoing quasi-state of emergency is lifted.
Daily infections in Tokyo have been climbing since a state of emergency was lifted last month, and the government appeared to have no choice but to extend a quasi-state of emergency covering the capital that is set to expire on July 11.
Under the somewhat lighter measures than a state of emergency, the number of people allowed at sports and other big events is restricted to 50% of venue capacity with an upper limit of 5,000 people.
But the Euro 2020 soccer tournament — which has been blamed this week for a surge in COVID-19 cases as fans flocked to stadiums, bars and spectator zones across Europe — is likely to further fuel worries in Japan.
The World Health Organization, which is advising the IOC, urged caution so as to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The WHO was learning from Euro 2020, said Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, adding: “If the virus is present and precautions are not in place the virus will spread.”
The governors of Chiba and Saitama prefectures near Tokyo have already urged organizers to ban spectators from nighttime events in their localities. The Yomiuri newspaper said organizers were leaning toward accepting the requests. Hashimoto said the organizers wanted to decide after discussing with the local authorities.
The governor of Hokkaido has indicated he would prefer if people did not come to watch the marathon along its routes in the city of Sapporo and has asked organizers to come up with safety protocols.
Meanwhile, fresh lottery has been held to reduce the number of Olympic tickets by 910,000 to 2.72 million, accounting for about 35% of the total seats in venues.
The results of the lottery are scheduled to be released next Tuesday. But the committee could delay the announcement as a recent rebound in COVID-19 cases may require it to further slash the number of ticket holders.
The organizing committee said Friday the opening ceremony on July 23 has been extended by 30 minutes as part of measures to enhance the safety of athletes.
The committee said it has changed the schedule to have the ceremony end at 11:30 p.m. because the extra time will be needed for athletes to march in the stadium, with enough physical distancing between them.
Upon request from the committee, the Defense Ministry said it will mobilize about 8,500 members of the Self-Defense Forces for maintaining security around venues of the Olympics and Paralympics and assisting flag-raising ceremonies.
Japan has not suffered the explosive COVID-19 outbreak seen elsewhere but the potential spread of more contagious variants and a slow initial rollout of vaccines have fueled concerns, as only about 23% of the population has had at least one shot.
Tokyo recorded 660 cases of the virus on Friday, the 13th straight day of week-on-week gains.
Since the pandemic first struck, Japan has recorded more than 796,800 COVID-19 cases and over 14,770 deaths.
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