Fans banned from Olympics as Japan battles renewed COVID outbreak

Japan’s prime minister declares a state of emergency with cases in the country on rise, just weeks ahead of the Games’ opening ceremony

Men cycle along the wall installed to close off a park being prepared for the Olympics and Paralympics Games in Tokyo on July 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)
Men cycle along the wall installed to close off a park being prepared for the Olympics and Paralympics Games in Tokyo on July 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

TOKYO — Fans are banned from the Tokyo Olympics, following a state of emergency aimed at containing rising coronavirus infections in the capital.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the state of emergency. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese organizers followed by banning local fans from the Olympics. Fans from abroad were banned months ago.

“Many people were looking forward to watching the games at the venues, but I would like everyone to fully enjoy watching the games on TV at home,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said after meeting with IOC and Japanese organizers on Thursday.

The emergency declaration was made the same day as the arrival in Japan of IOC President Thomas Bach. He will spend three days in self-isolation at the five-star hotel that lodges IOC members.

The state of emergency will run from Monday through August 22. Suga says it’s needed to “prevent the resurgence of the future spread on cases across the country.”

Tokyo reported 920 new cases on Wednesday, up from 714 last week and its highest since 1,010 on May 13. The figure is in line with experts’ earlier estimate that daily cases in Tokyo could hit 1,000 before the games and could spike into thousands in August.

The focus of the emergency is a request for bars, restaurants and karaoke parlors serving alcohol to close. Tokyo residents are expected to face stay-home requests and watch the games on TV from home.

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

Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto, left, and Tokyo Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa attend the local municipalities working group meeting in Tokyo, on Thursday, July 8, 2021. (Behrouz Mehri/Pool Photo via AP)

The IOC and local organizers are attempting to hold the games during a pandemic, despite opposition from the Japanese public and medical community. The postponed Tokyo Olympics are set to open on July 23.

The upcoming emergency will be the fourth for Tokyo since the pandemic began and is a last-minute change of plan made late Wednesday, after a meeting with experts who warned strongly against the government’s soft approach.

Kazuhiro Tateta, a Toho University infectious diseases expert, noted that an earlier state of emergency in the spring came too late to prevent hospitals in Osaka from overflowing with patients, and said another delay should not be allowed.

Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, noted that two-thirds of Japan’s cases are from the Tokyo region and “our concern is the spread of the infections to neighboring areas.”

Experts also noted cases among younger, unvaccinated people are rising as Japan’s inoculation drive loses steam due to supply uncertainty.

Just 15% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, compared to 47.4% in the United States and almost 50% in Britain. Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 infections and nearly 14,900 deaths.

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

He urged authorities to quickly take tough measures ahead of the Olympics, with summer vacations approaching. “The period from July to September is the most critical time for Japan’s COVID-19 measures,” Omi said.

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