Japan to decide soon on domestic spectators at Olympics

Published June 17, 2021
The Olympics have already been postponed by a year amid concerns over how organisers can keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe when they begin after a fourth wave of infections. — Reuters/File
The Olympics have already been postponed by a year amid concerns over how organisers can keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe when they begin after a fourth wave of infections. — Reuters/File

TOKYO: Japan will decide this month on whether to allow domestic spectators at the Tokyo Olympics, the government’s chief spokesman said on Wednesday, after experts signed off on a plan to allow crowds of up to 10,000 people at events.

The final call on attendance at the Games will be made taking into account coronavirus infection conditions and the prevalence of variants, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishim­ura said health experts agreed with a government plan that would permit up to 10,000 spectators or 50% of a venue’s capacity, whichever is smaller, at events.

Allowing such crowds depends on there not being special infection controls in effect, however.

Foreign spectators are already prohibited from the Olympics beginning on July 23 as part of measures planned to deliver what Japanese government and Olympic officials promise will be a “safe and secure” Games.

“It is important that we maintain thorough anti-infection measures to prevent a rebound in cases, especially as we foresee a spread of the Delta variant,” Nishimura told a government advisory panel, which endorsed the plan.

Tokyo organisers might be forgiven for eyeing football’s European Cham­pionship with envy, as tens of thousands of fans are expected to gather in stadiums across the continent throughout the month-long spectacle.

On Tuesday, a full house of 67,000 supporters watched Hungary take on Portugal in their Euro 2020 opener. Other nations are allowing various sized crowds, with up to 45,000 expected at both semi-finals and the July 11 final to be played at London’s Wembley Stadium.

Japan’s top medical adviser Shigeru Omi reiterated comments from the economy minister that attendance limit plans were not tied specifically to the Olympics. Omi told reporters he and other experts were in the final stages of drafting proposals for the Games, declining to elaborate on the details.

Omi has been outspoken in recent weeks about the risks of holding the Games during a pandemic and has said guidance from him and other experts was not making its way to the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC has tried to quell such concerns by saying that most athletes and media coming to Tokyo will be vaccinated, and that so-called playbooks governing hygiene, movements and testing of participants will further mitigate infection risks.

The Olympics have already been postponed by a year amid concerns over how organisers can keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe when they begin after a fourth wave of infections.

Tokyo, Osaka and eight other prefectures remain under a state of emergency that is set to end on June 20.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said on Wednesday he was against lifting the emergency declaration “too easily”, adding he would request quasi-emergency measures to avoid an infection rebound.

Takaji Wakita, head of the advisory panel, warned of possible surges of infection in the near future as people start to go out more in some regions, including Tokyo.

“When the government lifts the state of emergency, it’s important that restrictions are lifted gradually,” he told reporters on Wednesday after the panel met.

Japan’s sluggish vaccination push is starting to gain steam of late, and recent polls have pointed to acceptance that the Games will go forward.

Hofu City, in the southwestern prefecture of Yamaguchi, is vaccinating high school students, far ahead of the rest of the country, before they volunteer to help with pre-Games training there by Serbia’s national volleyball team, NHK reported.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2021

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