Japan’s government is expected to announce Thursday a new virus state of emergency running during the Olympics, raising the prospect of a Games with few or even no spectators. The emergency measures are far looser than the harsh lockdowns seen in some parts of the world, in large part limiting alcohol sales and forcing restaurants to shut early. But they’re going to also cap attendance at large events, a key issue with just two weeks until the pandemic-postponed Games open on July 23.
“The number of new cases continues to rise in Tokyo,” Japan’s minister in charge of the virus response Yasutoshi Nishimura said Thursday.
“As the movement of people increases, the more infectious Delta variant now accounts for around 30 percent of cases. This is expected to expand further,” he added.
The proposed emergency, which will be made official later Thursday, will run until August 22 and will set a 5,000 spectator cap, or 50 per cent venue capacity, whichever is less, Nishimura said.
Alcohol will be banned at bars and restaurants, which must near by 8pm, and events such as concerts and conferences must end by 9pm.
“We are hoping to contain the spread of infections by placing Tokyo under a state of emergency,” he said, warning that hospitalisations were rising among people in their forties and fifties.
While Japan has so far experienced a fairly small virus outbreak, with around 14,900 deaths despite avoiding harsh lockdowns, its vaccination programme has moved comparatively slowly.
Just over 15 percent of the population is fully vaccinated so far, and there are concerns that the more infectious Delta variant could produce a new wave that might quickly overwhelm native medical resources.
Assembly on spectators
The decision comes with Olympic organisers scrambling to make a last call on how many spectators, whether any, can also be in the stands at events.
In another country fans have already been barred from attending, and organisers final month said they would limit native spectators to 10,000 people or 50 percent venue capacity.
But they’ve acknowledged that the figure might be further reduced, saying the Games could even be held at the back of closed doors, whether the virus situation worsened and tougher restrictions were imposed in Tokyo.
Ticketholders for oversubscribed events were supposed to find out on Tuesday if they would still have seats after a lottery to thin the crowds.
But in a signal of the continued wrangling on the issue, those results have now been pushed back until Saturday.
Tokyo 2020 organisers are expected to meet on Thursday or Friday with officials from the native and national government and the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees to make a last decision on attendance.
IOC chief Thomas Bach arrives in Tokyo on Thursday, and must observe a three-day quarantine before being allowed limited movement.
Olympic participants most often will not have to observe a full 14-day quarantine, but will face restrictions all the way through their time in Japan, with athletes limited to venues and the Olympic Village and tested day-to-day for the virus.
Tokyo 2020 is struggling to build momentum and enthusiasm for the Games as the last countdown begins.
The torch relay that used to be supposed to stoke excitement as it travelled nationwide has been taken off public streets in much of the country over virus risks, and even its legs in the capital will now be held without spectators.
And fans have been asked to steer clear of the route of the Olympic marathon which will be run in northern Hokkaido.
Polls show most Japanese would prefer the Games be postponed again or cancelled outright, though opposition has softened in recent weeks.
Topics mentioned in this article