Japan May Ban All Spectators for Olympics During State of Emergency; New Measures Coming This Week

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Japan May Ban All Spectators for Olympics During State of Emergency; New Measures Coming This Week

News out of Japan has gone back and forth for months about whether fans would be allowed into venues to watch the Tokyo Olympics. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that delayed the Olympics as originally scheduled in 2020, many medical officials including top advisor Dr. Shigeru Omi suggested arenas and stadiums should be closed to fans to prevent the spread of the disease, but Japanese officials had not followed that advice.

So until Wednesday, the Olympics seemed likely to go off with venues filled to no more than 50 percent capacity. That would only have been domestic fans, with all foreign observers told months ago that they would not be welcome at the Olympics. However, new reports from the Associate Press and Reuters suggest that Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga is heavily weighing banning fans altogether, with an announcement expected Thursday or Friday.

According to the AP, “Suga did not confirm the report but noted Tokyo’s upsurge and vowed ‘to do everything we can to prevent the further spread of the infections.'”

Japan’s 920 new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday was the country’s highest total in two months, and the AP reported that two-thirds of those new infections occurred in the Tokyo region. Japan has not dealt with the massive COVID-19 surges seen in other countries, such as in Europe and the United States, but only one-quarter of the Japanese population has received even a single shot of the COVID-19 vaccine while less than 15 percent of Japan is fully vaccinated, which could leave room for the Olympics to turn into superspreader event in Japan.

The recent switch in the Japanese position on fans at the Games is likely not related to any newly-discovered safety concerns but rather a setback by Suga’s ruling party to Japan, according to Reuters. Reuters reported via a source in Suga’s party that, “Politically speaking, having no spectators is now unavoidable.” Going ahead with the Games despite widespread Japanese support for their cancellation and allowing fans to watch events in venues could hurt the party in parliamentary elections later this year.

Even without fans in attendance, the Olympics are not at risk of being cancelled because the International Olympic Committee receives the vast majority of its income from television broadcast deals, which would not be impacted because of the lack of fans.

Read more on this story from the Associated Press and from Reuters.