International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has arrived in Tokyo as Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihde Suga declared a state of emergency that could result in a ban on fans at the Tokyo Games as coronavirus infections spread across the capital.
Suga said the state of emergency would take effect from Monday and last until August 22. This means that the Olympics, which will start from July 23 and run till August 8, will be held entirely under emergency measures.
Suga said the state of emergency was needed “to prevent a future resurgence of spread over cases across the country”.
Bach largely avoided cameras at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and, on a rainy afternoon, went to the International Olympic Committee’s sports headquarters in Tokyo, a five-star hotel in the city center. They have been told to self-isolate for three days.
Bach’s arrival comes just two weeks before the postponed Tokyo Games open. The IOC and local organizers are trying to hold the Games during a pandemic, despite protests from the Japanese public and the medical community.
The main focus of the emergency is the request to shut down bars, restaurants and karaoke parlors serving liquor. The ban on serving alcohol is an important step in reducing Olympic-related festivities and preventing people from drinking and partying. Tokyo residents are expected to face requests to stay home and watch sports on TV from home.
“One of the main issues is how to prevent people enjoying the Olympics from going out for drinks,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said.
The current state of emergency ends on Sunday. Tokyo reported 920 new cases on Wednesday, up from 714 a week earlier. It was the 18th straight day of week-on-week increase, and the highest since 1,010 were reported on May 13.
Fans from abroad were banned from participating in the Olympics months ago. But just two weeks ago, organizers and the IOC decided to allow venues to be filled up to 50% capacity, but crowds should not exceed 10,000. The state of emergency will force them to change plans again, with a decision coming later on Thursday.
Rising cases are likely to mean that venues will be without spectators, although sponsors and others may have access. A no-fan environment could include the opening ceremony at the $1.4 billion National Stadium.
The surge in infections has also forced the Tokyo city government to pull the Olympic torch relay from the capital’s streets, allowing it to operate only on remote islands off the Tokyo coast. It is unclear how the torch will enter the stadium for the opening ceremony.
Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, said, “The infection is in its expansion phase and everyone in this country should understand its severity.”
He urged the authorities to take strict steps ahead of the Olympics at the earliest, as the summer holidays are approaching.
Omi has repeatedly called for a ban on spectators, saying it is “unusual” to hold the Olympics during the pandemic.
Separately, a government COVID-19 advisory panel met on Wednesday and expressed concerns about the ongoing resurgence of infections.
“Two-thirds of infections in the capital region are from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of infections to neighboring regions,” said Ryuji Wakita, director general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The Olympics are proceeding against most medical advice, partly because the postponement has halted the IOC’s income flow. It receives about 75% of its proceeds from selling broadcast rights, and is estimated to lose $3 billion to $4 billion if the Olympics are cancelled.
About 11,000 Olympians and 4,400 Paralympians are expected to enter Japan, with thousands of officials, judges, administrators, sponsors, broadcasters and media also expected to enter. The IOC says that more than 80% of Olympic Village residents will be vaccinated.
Nationwide, Japan has nearly 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still less than 47.4% in the United States and about 50% in the UK.
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