• Kyodo

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The Tokyo Paralympics will be held without spectators at all venues due to an alarming rise in coronavirus infections in the host city and many other parts of Japan, organizers said Monday, about a week before the opening of the event.

The International Paralympic Committee and three other bodies decided to stage all competitions behind closed doors in Tokyo and the prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Shizuoka during a meeting.

The four areas are where all Paralympic venues are located. An exception will be made for students from local schools participating in a government-backed educational program, the Tokyo Organising Committee said in a statement.

The meeting was attended by International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons, who arrived in Japan earlier in the day; Seiko Hashimoto, head of the organizing body; Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa.

“By taking further thorough measures gained from the experience of hosting the Olympics, I am convinced that we can realize a safe, secure and smooth Games,” Hashimoto said of the Paralympics, delayed for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic, in her opening remarks.

A decision on the Paralympics had been pushed back until the last minute to monitor how the infection situation in Japan developed. The 17-day Olympics that concluded on Aug. 8 were held without spectators at most venues.

Tokyo has been under a coronavirus state of emergency since July 12 due to an increase in cases triggered by the highly contagious delta variant. It has reported record numbers of daily infections in recent weeks, with the daily tally hitting 5,773 on Friday, nearly triple the figure logged before the start of the Olympics on July 23.

“In light of the current case numbers in Tokyo and wider Japan, everyone attending these Games must be vigilant and follow the principles of the playbooks at all times,” Parsons said. “Only by doing so, we’ll be able to deliver a safe and spectacular Paralympic Games.

“After five years of training, the athletes are extremely excited. They are primed and ready to take center stage. I can’t wait to see them compete,” said the IPC president, who took part in the meeting virtually from his hotel room, where he remains in quarantine in line with COVID-19 restrictions outlined in the rule books of the Games.

A nationwide survey conducted by Kyodo News showed Monday that 64.7% of the public wanted the Paralympics to be held without spectators.

The organizers of the Paralympics were earlier considering allowing up to 5,000 fans into venues in Shizuoka Prefecture, which will host cycling events, as long as the figure did not exceed 50% of a venue’s capacity, according to the officials.

But that was changed as the governor of Shizuoka on Monday requested that the central government expand the scope of the current state of emergency to include the prefecture, citing the strain on its medical system due to surging COVID-19 cases.

The Paralympics are expected to involve about 4,400 athletes from nearly 160 countries, but an IPC official said Monday that Afghanistan is likely to give up on participating in the Games after its government collapsed on Sunday and the Taliban took control of the country.

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