Tokyo Olympics organisers lean toward banning spectators from night events: Report

The organisers of the Tokyo Olympics are considering banning fans from attending the night events and events at large-scale venues amid persistent worries about the spread of COVID-19.

Tokyo Olympics

The governors of Chiba and Saitama prefectures near Tokyo have already been urging organisers to ban spectators from night-time events in their localities.   -  REUTERS

Tokyo Olympics organisers are leaning towards banning spectators from night-time events and large-scale venues, Japan's Yomiuri newspaper reported on Friday, amid persistent worries about the spread of COVID-19 just three weeks before the Games begin.

Polls show a majority of Japanese oppose holding the Olympics given warnings from health experts that it could unleash another wave of infections. The Games are scheduled to start on July 23, after a year's delay due to the pandemic.

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The governors of Chiba and Saitama prefectures near Tokyo have already been urging organisers to ban spectators from night-time events in their localities. Their request is being discussed and a decision will be made at five-way talks that will include the Tokyo governor, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the head of Tokyo 2020, Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa told reporters. The talks will be held on July 8, Kyodo news agency said.

The government is also expected to make a call next week on whether to lift a state of "quasi-emergency" in Tokyo and other parts of the country. Organisers have pledged to make the Games "safe and secure", arguing other large sporting events have been held safely.

While they have banned overseas spectators, they have so far decided to cap the number of domestic spectators to 10,000 per venue for the Games, or 50 per cent of capacity, despite medical experts saying no spectators would be the "least risky" option.

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Brushing aside concerns the Olympics could become a "superspreader" event, Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics and a member of the IOC, told CNBC on Thursday the Games "will go ahead and they should go ahead".

But the Euro 2020 football tournament - which has been blamed this week for a surge in COVID-19 cases as fans flocked to stadiums, bars and spectator zones across Europe - is likely to further fuel worries in Japan.

The governor of Hokkaido in northern Japan has indicated he would prefer if people did not come to watch the marathon along its routes in the city of Sapporo and has asked organisers to come up with safety protocols.

Top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato, when asked about the remarks, said he would "monitor discussions" between organisers and local authorities.

- Tokyo COVID-19 curbs may remain -

Japan is likely to extend by two weeks or more its COVID-19 containment measures in the greater Tokyo area after the current July 11 deadline, government sources have said.

Japan is not hesitant about extending curbs in Tokyo, but "it is meaningless if it has no impact", Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters.

Japan has not suffered the explosive COVID-19 outbreak seen elsewhere but the potential spread of more contagious variants and a slow initial rollout of vaccines have fuelled concerns. Worries about vaccine supply are also clouding the outlook.

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The government has stopped accepting new applications from firms and universities that want to set up mass vaccination sites for employees and students, while some municipalities have cancelled appointments due to shortages.

The country has recorded more than 796,800 COVID-19 cases and over 14,770 deaths. Only about 23 per cent of the population has got at least one vaccination shot, although for people aged 65 and above, the rate is more than 60 per cent.

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