• REUTERS

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Olympic stadiums may be empty of fans, but in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, residents gathered on Friday to watch sports on a big TV screen at a theater, highlighting the buzz created by Japan’s medal rush but also the risks of spreading COVID-19.

The 54 people in attendance were asked not to eat or drink, and to maintain social distance and keep their masks on. Cheering was banned, so most clapped to support the Japanese volleyball team which ended up losing 3-0 against Poland.

“Cheering at home is nice, but I think it’s best to gather like this and cheer while maintaining social distancing,” 57-year-old public notary Hitoshi Abe said.

Host nation Japan is enjoying a stellar Games, sitting second in the medal table with 17 golds as of Saturday morning, behind only China and ahead of sports giant the United States.

The viewing was possible because COVID-19 curbs have been lighter in Takasaki — about 120 kilometers northwest of Tokyo — than in the Japanese capital where the spread of the Delta variant is putting hospitals under pressure.

Tokyo had 3,300 new cases, after a record 3,865 on Thursday. The surge is straining hospitals, with 64% of Tokyo’s hospital beds for serious cases filled. Japan on Friday expanded its state of emergency to three areas near Tokyo and to Osaka.

Gunma Prefecture logged 106 new infections on Friday, one of the highest daily tallies in the prefecture. It was the sixth and last time the city, which has hosted the Polish national team, held a live public viewing event.

The Olympics will be held until Aug. 8.

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