Tokyo Olympics to be held without spectators

Tokyo Olympics officials announced Thursday morning no spectators will be allowed during the Games due to the recently implemented coronavirus state of emergency throughout the metropolitan area.

The announcement was reported by several Japanese news outlets and came after IOC President Thomas Bach arrived in Tokyo after Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a state of emergency because of rising coronavirus infections in the capital.

Reuters also confirmed the news late Thursday morning.

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Suga said the state of emergency would go in effect Monday and last through Aug. 22. This means the Olympics, opening on July 23 and running through Aug. 8, will be held entirely under emergency measures. The Paralympics open Aug. 24.

The Olympics officially begin exactly 364 days after they were originally supposed to commence last summer. Organizers made the decision to postpone them in March 2020, two weeks after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

The first day of competition is July 21 — soccer and softball start early. And because of the time difference, the very first event, a softball game between Australia and Japan, begins at 8 p.m. ET on July 20.

“Taking into consideration the impact of the delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures,” Suga said in announcing the emergency measures.

Bach largely avoided cameras at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and, on a rainy afternoon, went to the International Olympic Committee’s games headquarters in Tokyo, a five-star hotel in the center of the city. He is reported to need to self-isolate for three days.

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The main focus of the emergency is a request for bars, restaurants and karaoke parlors serving alcohol to close. A ban on serving alcohol is a key step to tone down Olympic-related festivities and keep people from drinking and partying.

“How to stop people enjoying the Olympics from going out for drinks is a main issue,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said.

Tokyo reported 896 new cases Thursday, up from 673 a week earlier. It’s the 19th straight day that cases have topped the mark set seven days prior. New cases on Wednesday hit 920, the highest total since 1,010 were reported on May 13.

Fans from abroad were months ago banned from attending the Olympics.

The uptick in infections has also forced the Tokyo city government to pull the Olympic torch relay off capital streets, allowing it to run only on remote islands off the Tokyo coast. It’s unclear how the torch will enter the stadium for the opening ceremony.

“The infections are in their expansion phase, and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it,” said Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser.

He urged authorities to quickly take tough measures ahead of the Olympics, with summer vacations approaching.

Omi has repeatedly called for a ban on spectators, and has said it’s “abnormal” to hold the Olympics during a pandemic.

Separately, a government COVID-19 advisory panel met Wednesday and expressed concerns about the ongoing resurgence of the infections.

“Two-thirds of the infections in the capital region are from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of the infections to neighboring areas,” said Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The Olympics are pushing ahead against most medical advice, partially because the postponement stalled the IOC’s income flow. It gets almost 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights and estimates suggest it would lose $3 billion to $4 billion if the Olympics were canceled.

About 11,000 Olympians and 4,400 Paralympians are expected to enter Japan, with tens of thousands of officials, judges, administrators, sponsors, broadcasters and media also entering. The IOC says more than 80% of resident of the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.

Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared with 47.4% in the United States and almost 50% in Britain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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