Japan to impose COVID emergency in Tokyo, mulls fan-free Olympics

As Japanese capital battles a new wave of cases, pressure grows on Olympic organisers about spectators.

Medical advisers experts have said for weeks that having no spectators at the Games would be the least risky option amid widespread public concern that the influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.

Organisers have already banned overseas spectators and have set a cap on domestic fans at 50 percent of capacity, to a maximum of 10,000 people. Talks to finalise the restrictions on the spectators are expected either on Thursday or on Friday.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, who arrives in Tokyo on Thursday to oversee the last leg of the preparations, will preside over the talks.

Japan’s economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who heads the government’s coronavirus response, said a state of emergency in Tokyo is set to begin on July 12 and remain in force until Aug 22.

The Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on July 23 and run for two weeks. They will be followed by the Paralympic Games.

The decision to impose a state of emergency follows a rise in Tokyo cases to their highest since mid-May. The Japanese capital is currently under slightly less strict “quasi emergency” measures.

The move is expected to be made official later on Thursday and followed by a news conference by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Areas neighbouring Tokyo where some Olympic events are also slated to take place, such as Chiba and Kanagawa, are set to remain under “quasi emergency” through August 22.

Underscoring the last-minute nature of the preparations, organisers told Olympic sponsors on Wednesday they are anticipating two scenarios when Tokyo goes under the state of emergency: having no spectators or setting a 5,000-person limit on spectators, a source familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency.

In the no-spectator scenario, the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as all sports events, will probably be carried out without fans, including tickets allocated to the sponsors, the organisers told companies in online meetings.

If the number of spectators is capped at 5,000 per venue, tickets allocated to Olympic sponsors would be halved, and organisers also expect any session after 9pm (12:00 GMT) would be staged without spectators, the source said.

There have been persistent protests against holding the Games with  the issue blamed for a relatively poor performance by the ruling party in recent city elections [Kimimasa Mayama/EPA]

The organising committee did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. 

Until this week, officials have insisted they could organise the Games safely with some spectators, but a governing party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some of Suga’s allies attributed to public anger about the Olympics, had forced the change of tack, sources said.

Japan will hold a parliamentary election later this year and the government’s insistence that the Games – already postponed by a year because of the pandemic – should go ahead could cost it support at the ballot box, they said.


Previous articleIndia gets new ministers for health, IT, oil amid COVID crisis
Next articleHighest number of COVID-19 cases identified yesterday from Kalutara