Fans banned from Olympics as Tokyo placed under state of emergency

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By Euronews  with AP
The delayed Olympic games are running from July 23 to August 8.
The delayed Olympic games are running from July 23 to August 8.   -   Copyright  Shinji Kita/AP

Japanese authorities announced on Thursday that fans will not be allowed to attend the upcoming Tokyo Olympics after imposing a state of emergency.

The ban on fan attendance was announced by the International Olympic Committee and Japanese organisers, reducing the games to a made-for-TV event.

Fans from abroad were banned months ago, and the new measures announced by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will clear venues around Tokyo — indoor and outdoor — of any fans at all.

The announcement came just hours after authorities said that a state of emergency on the Japanese capital will to come into effect on Monday and last until August 22, effectively running through the games which will open in two weeks.

“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.

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

A 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. 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," Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach arrived in Japan on Thursday where he is due to take part in a three-day online quarantine meeting on the spectator issue with the local organising committee, representatives of the Japanese government and the Tokyo municipality.

Bach must self-isolate for three days in the IOC’s five-star hotel in the Japanese capital before heading to Hiroshima, where heavy rain is threatening flooding.

Tokyo is currently under less-stringent measures that focus on shortened hours for bars and restaurants but have proven less effective at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

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.

Kazuhiro Tateta, a Toho University infectious diseases expert, noted 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, low 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.