Tokyo area to be under state of emergency throughout Olympics

Photo: EPA Britain's Olympic Team members arrive at Tokyo International Airport at Haneda, 8 July 2021.

Japan's government on Thursday announced a new virus state of emergency stretching throughout the Tokyo Olympics, as reports said organisers could bar fans from almost all events at the Games, news wires reported. "We will impose the state of emergency in Tokyo," PM Yoshihide Suga said at a government meeting on infection measures. The period will be until 22 August.

With just two weeks until the opening ceremony on 23 July, coronavirus infections are rising in the capital, and the spread of the more infectious Delta variant has spooked officials. The rising cases threaten to derail plans to let up to 10,000 local fans into Olympic venues, and could mean Tokyo 2020 is the first-ever Games held behind closed doors.

"The number of new cases continues to rise in Tokyo," warned Japan's minister in charge of the virus response Yasutoshi Nishimura on Thursday. "As the movement of people increases, the more infectious Delta variant now accounts for around 30% of cases. This is expected to expand further," he added.

The virus emergency rules are looser than the harsh lockdowns seen in other parts of the world. Alcohol will be banned at bars and restaurants, which will have to close by 8pm, and events such as concerts and conferences will have to end by 9pm. And crucially, spectators at events will be capped at 5,000 people or 50% venue capacity, whichever is less.

"We hope to contain the spread of infections by placing Tokyo under a state of emergency," Nishimura said, warning that hospitalisations were rising among people in their forties and fifties.

The decision puts pressure on Olympic organisers who are scrambling to make a final ruling on how many local fans, if any, will be in the stands at the Games. Several Japanese media outlets said Thursday that organisers were now likely to bar spectators from all competition venues in Tokyo and three surrounding areas.

Tokyo 2020 organisers are expected to meet with local and national government officials and the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees as early as Thursday evening to make the key decision.

IOC chief Thomas Bach arrived in Tokyo on Thursday, and will have to undergo a three-day quarantine before being allowed limited movement. Olympic participants generally will not have to observe a full 14-day quarantine, but will face restrictions during their time in Japan, with athletes limited to venues and the Olympic Village and tested daily for the virus.

Polls show most Japanese would prefer the Games be postponed again or cancelled outright, though opposition has softened in recent weeks.

While Japan has so far experienced a relatively small virus outbreak, with around 14,900 deaths despite avoiding harsh lockdowns, its vaccination programme has moved comparatively slowly. Just over 15% of the population is fully vaccinated so far.

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