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Japan Declares State of Emergency, Banning Most Spectators at Tokyo Olympics

Officials from the government, the IOC, and Tokyo organizers announced on Thursday that spectators will not be allowed at most venues.

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With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the Japanese government announced its fourth state of emergency in Tokyo on Thursday, which will extend to August 22—that includes the Olympics, set to begin on July 23. The Games will go on, however spectators will not be allowed at most venues throughout Tokyo, making it a made-for-TV affair this year.

Although international fans had already been barred from attending the Olympics, officials had hoped that domestic audiences could watch the events at 50 percent capacity. As vaccination rates remain relatively low in Japan at 20 percent and COVID-19 spread increases, the government decided against it. According to the government website, cases are increasing by nearly 2,000 per day with Tokyo the hardest hit—on Wednesday alone the host city accounted for 920 new cases. 

Officials also announced this week that spectators should refrain from gathering to watch the women’s and men’s marathons on August 7 and 8, respectively, taking place in Sapporo, Japan. The torch relay has also been moved off the public roads when it reaches Tokyo on Friday.

Prior to this most recent state of emergency, Tokyo organizers received backlash for allowing a multitude of spectators while not allowing nursing athletes to bring their infants. Just last week they reversed their decision, now allowing nursing children to attend “when necessary.” It is unclear if that decision will be reversed yet again.

Regardless, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the city would continue to prepare for “a safe Olympics” even under the strict COVID-19 precautions.

Public health professionals have stated that barring spectators is the only way to have the Games proceed safely. Currently only about 20 percent of Japanese citizens have received one vaccine. Athletes are not required to be vaccinated to compete, however the IOC estimates that 80 percent of the people staying in the Olympic village will have received their shots.

The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus is also a factor. 

“In terms of potentially mixing variants, and even variances of concern, I think it’s very significant,” said Paul Griffin of the University of Queensland in Australia in an interview with Reuters. “I think everything that can be done to reduce the prospects for transmission is very important. And one of those things should be reducing the number of non-essential attendees at all events.”

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