Tokyo Paralympics to be held without fans as COVID-19 cases surge

The Paralympics come as new infections have accelerated in Tokyo, which may expose an athlete population that is more vulnerable to COVID-19.

All fans will be barred from the Paralympics in Tokyo, except the possibility of some children attending a few unspecified events.   -  REUTERS

All fans will be barred from the Paralympics in Japan because of the coronavirus pandemic, just as they were from the recently-completed Tokyo Olympics, organisers said Monday.

There were a few exceptions made during the Olympics with some fans allowed in outlying areas away from Tokyo. This time, all fans will be barred except the possibility of some children attending a few unspecified events.

Organisers have also asked the public not to come out to view road events.

The decision was announced after a meeting with International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons, organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa.

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The Paralympics open on August 24 with about 4,400 athletes, a far smaller event than the Olympics with 11,000 athletes. But the Paralympics come as new infections have accelerated in Tokyo, which may expose an athlete population that is more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Parsons, speaking at a news conference, said there was no room for complacency in the wake of the Olympics.

“In light of the current case numbers in Tokyo and wider Japan, everyone attending these games must be vigilant,” Parsons said.

New infections in Tokyo tripled during the 17 days of the Olympics, although medical experts said the surge was not directly linked to the Tokyo Games. Rather, experts suggested an indirect effect as the public was distracted and lulled into a false sense of security that staging the Games offered.

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With the situation growing worse, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday said a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas will be extended until September 12. The state of emergency has been in force since July 12 and was to end later this month.

The Paralympics end on September 5.

“The surge in infections is reaching alarming record highs,” Suga said after meeting with other government ministers.

On Friday, Tokyo logged 5,773 cases, a new high. On Sunday, the Japanese capital reported 4,295 cases. The rise in infections has severely strained the medical system. Experts say the situation is getting out of control and some call it 'a disaster'.

Japan has attributed 15,400 deaths to COVID-19.

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Dr. Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, said in an interview with regional newspaper Tokyo Shimbun published on Saturday that a significant number of people are still unvaccinated, and characterised the virus situation for the Paralympics as worse than it was during the Olympics.

Estimates suggest about 37% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated.

Ozaki called having no fans 'a minimum necessity' and attributed the surge to the delta variant.

He called holding the Paralympics 'a political decision, but the judgment by the medial side is that it will be difficult'.

“The Olympics," Ozaki added, "is a festival and might have affected the people in ways to loosen up and served as an indirect cause of rising cases.”

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