The logo of Tokyo 2020 is displayed near Odaiba Seaside Park in Tokyo on July 7, 2021, as reports said the Japanese government plans to impose a virus state of emergency in Tokyo during the Olympics.
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images
Olympic organizers are set to ban all spectators from the Games, the Asahi daily said on Thursday, as Japan declared a coronavirus state of emergency for Tokyo that will run through its hosting of the event to curb a new wave of infections.
Organizers were set to formally reach the decision on spectators during five-way talks between main parties on Thursday, the newspaper said, citing people involved in the Games.
If confirmed, the ban on spectators would mark the latest blow to the troubled Olympics, delayed by a year because of the pandemic and plagued by a series of setbacks, including massive budget overruns.
Medical experts have said for weeks that having no spectators at the Games would be the least risky option amid widespread public fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.
“I, of course, support ‘no spectators’ but concerns will never disappear as long as we have a big event like the Games, along with holidays and the vacation season,” said Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor working with the government’s coronavirus experts group.
Furuse recently projected that new daily cases in Tokyo could increase to 1,000 in July and 2,000 in August, raising the risk of hospitals in the capital region running out of beds.
Anyone wanting to support athletes has been told clap rather than cheer or sing. Sponsors are cancelling or scaling back booths and events tied to the Games, frustrated by the “very last-minute” decisions by organizers, sources told Reuters.
The talks, scheduled for 8 p.m. (1100 GMT) will be chaired by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who arrived in Tokyo on Thursday. Other participants include the Tokyo and national governments and Paralympic officials.
“Taking into consideration the effect of coronavirus variants and not to let the infections spread again to the rest of the nation, we need to strengthen our countermeasures,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.
“Given the situation, we will issue a state of emergency for Tokyo.”
Japan has not suffered the kind of explosive COVID-19 outbreaks seen in many other countries but has had more than 810,000 cases and 14,900 deaths.
A slow vaccine rollout has meant only a quarter of the population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot.
The new state of emergency in Tokyo comes as the capital announced 896 new daily infections on Thursday, near highs last seen in mid-May.
The new restrictions in Tokyo, under which restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, will begin on Monday and run through to Aug 22.
The Games are scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8.
Underscoring the last-minute nature of preparations, organizers have presented various spectator scenarios to Olympic sponsors as late as Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Sponsors were told that in the case of no spectators, all sports and opening and closing ceremonies would likely be held without fans, meaning tickets allocated to sponsors could not be used.
The absence of crowds will likely further strain the Games’ budget, which has already blown out to an estimated $15.4 billion, with ticket revenues of about $815 million expected to take a big hit.
The organizing committee did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Until this week, officials have insisted they could organize the Games safely with some spectators, but a ruling party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some allies of Suga attributed to public anger over the Olympics, had forced the change of tack, sources said.
Japan will hold a parliamentary election later this year and the government’s insistence that the Games – postponed last year as the virus spread around the world – should go ahead this year could cost it at the ballot box, they said.
Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through 2032.