The Tokyo Paralympics are highly likely to have no spectators in principle as the coronavirus continues to rage, especially in the Tokyo metropolitan area, which is still under a COVID-19 state of emergency.
While shutting out general spectators, the government is exploring ways to run programs that will allow elementary to high school students to watch Paralympic events live, sources said.
The government plans to decide the spectator policy as early as next week in a meeting with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Tokyo Organising Committee and others. The 13-day Paralympics are set to open on Aug. 24.
“We’ll make the utmost efforts to realize a safe and secure Paralympics,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told U.S. President Joe Biden in telephone talks Tuesday, held after the Tokyo Olympics ended Sunday.
Suga has shown a strong desire to allow spectators at Paralympic venues if the coronavirus infection situation improves in Tokyo and other areas.
“We’ll monitor the infection situation a bit more, but we want to have spectators at Paralympic venues if possible,” a source close to the prime minister said.
But new infections in Tokyo have not shown signs of decreasing. The daily count in the capital totaled 4,200 on Wednesday.
A government source has said that the Paralympic Games will have no spectators.
“It’ll be difficult for most venues to accept spectators,” a senior organizing committee official said.
Still, the government hopes to give schoolchildren an opportunity to watch Paralympic events live, as it sees significant educational benefits, sources said.
“We want to hold viewing events somehow” for schoolchildren, a senior government official said.
Some municipalities in Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Shizuoka prefectures hosting Paralympic venues said that school viewing events are one of the possible options.
The Tokyo Olympics were held without spectators for most games, but hosted viewing programs for schoolchildren for soccer matches in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Still, concerns remain strong over having any spectators, even on a limited scale.
Referring to a forecast that new coronavirus cases each day in Tokyo may top 10,000, Tokushima Gov. Kamon Iizumi, who heads the National Governors’ Association, said Tuesday that “the situation is getting so serious it may become difficult to hold the Paralympics.”
Meanwhile, flame-lighting events for the Tokyo Paralympic torch relay began across Japan on Thursday despite the relay being scaled down due to the pandemic.
A series of events related to the torch relay were held in an effort to boost momentum ahead of the Paralympics.
Flames for the Paralympics are set to be collected in more than 800 municipalities across Japan and be united with the flame lit in Stoke Mandeville, Britain — the spiritual birthplace of the Paralympic movement.
Lighting events will take place over the next five days in 43 of Japan’s 47 prefectures that will not stage Paralympic competitions. The locations and lighting methods have been left up to each municipality, and the flames will be brought to Tokyo later this month.
Between Tuesday and Aug. 20, the four prefectures that will host Paralympic events will hold flame-lighting events.
The flames lit in the host country and in Britain will be united at a ceremony in Tokyo on Aug. 20, before the torch relay in the capital is slated to begin ahead of the opening ceremony at the National Stadium.
The relay in Tokyo, originally set to feature some 700 torchbearers passing the flame over a course of around 35 kilometers, was taken off public roads due to the pandemic. Instead, runners will gather for a so-called torch kiss ceremony.
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