Olympics organizers ban spectators in Tokyo on COVID fears | News | DW | 08.07.2021

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Olympics organizers ban spectators in Tokyo on COVID fears

Organizing chief Seiko Hashimoto said it is regrettable that the Olympics will be held "in a very limited format." Tokyo has declared a state of emergency due to rising infection numbers.

Japan National Stadium in Tokyo

The delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo are to be held with no live audience

The Olympic Games will be held with no spectators in the city area of Tokyo, organizers announced on Thursday, after Japan's Prime Minister called a state of emergency in the Japanese capital.

Despite the ban inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, Olympic venues in Fukushima, Miyagi and Shizuoka may still be allowed to be 50% full up to a maximum of 50,000 spectators, said Japanese Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa 

Spectators could be allowed at Paralympic events too, although this will be decided at the end of the Olympics on August 8.

These exceptions were worked out after a meeting between the International Olympic Committee, host city Tokyo and other authorities.

How did it come to this?

The Tokyo Games, scheduled from July 23 to August 8, are being held after a delay despite opposition from medical experts and the majority of the public.

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Japan has already banned overseas spectators in a bid to curb infections. The officials have also set a cap on domestic viewers at 50% of capacity, up to 10,000 people, before announcing a complete ban within the capital.

"We had no other choice," said local organizing chief Seiko Hashimoto on Thursday about the Tokyo city ban.

The situation worsened when Japan's public health authorities reported 896 coronavirus cases on Thursday.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach arrived in Japan on Thursday. He is set to spend three days in self-isolation to minimize the risk of infection.

What have the authorities said?

"We must take stronger steps to prevent another nationwide outbreak, also considering the impact of coronavirus variants," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

The IOC and International Paralympic Committee said in a statement they were "respecting this decision, support it in the interest of safe and secure Games for everybody."

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koíke said the ban on fans in Tokyo was "heartbreaking" for those who wanted to attend the event. She asked people to watch the long awaited Olympics from their homes instead.

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"It is regrettable that we are delivering the Games in a very limited format, facing the spread of coronavirus infections," Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said. "I am sorry for those who purchased tickets," she added.

How have the fans reacted?

Sports fan Ryuichi Ishikawa, 54, told Reuters news agency he had hoped for a chance he would still have a ticket in the "lottery" after attendance was capped at 10,000. 

He said he then "got this feeling of dread" when the numbers of cases hit 900 in Tokyo after spending 80,000 yen ($728, €615) on tickets.

Keiko Otsubo, a woman in her 40s who wanted to watch the triathlon told Reuters it was "really regrettable" that infections were not controlled. 

"If they'd been able to get vaccinations over earlier we could've been like America and other places, where everybody's now going out to sports events just like normal," added Otsubo.

jc/dj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

An earlier version of this article stated that all spectators will be banned from the Tokyo Olympics. While initial reports indicated a complete ban, the authorities later clarified that the ban would apply to the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area, where most events are to be held. However, several other venues in other parts of the country may still admit spectators. DW apologizes for any confusion.