Spectators risk Olympic ban as Tokyo declares coronavirus emergency

Spectators risk Olympic ban as Tokyo declares coronavirus emergency

TOKYO – The Tokyo Olympics will take place without spectators, organizers said Thursday, as a resurgent pandemic has forced Japan to declare a state of coronavirus emergency for the capital which will run throughout the year. event.

It was the latest blow to the struggling Olympics, already delayed for a year due to the pandemic and plagued by a series of setbacks, including massive budget overruns.

Although widely expected, the move marked a sharp turnaround from a few weeks earlier, when organizers said they aimed to host the centerpiece of world sport with a limited number of spectators.

“It is unfortunate that we are hosting the Games in a very limited format, in the face of the spread of coronavirus infections,” Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said after talks between government officials and organizers from Tokyo and Olympic and Paralympic representatives.

Staff wearing masks and shields await the arrival of athletes at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Thursday.Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters

“I’m sorry for those who bought tickets and everyone in the local areas.”

(Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said it is essential to prevent Tokyo, where the highly infectious variant of the Covid-19 delta was spreading, from becoming the source of another wave of infections.)

NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, paid $ 7.5 billion to extend its media rights to the US Olympics until 2032. NBCUniversal is the International Olympic Committee’s largest source of revenue.

The ban practically deprives the Tokyo Games, which are to take place from July 23 to August 8, of their last hope of pomp and public spectacle.

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Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said organizers agreed to hold the Games without spectators in Tokyo and to decide based on the local situation at venues outside the capital.

Organizers previously banned international fans and set a cap for domestic spectators at 50% capacity, up to 10,000 people per venue. The supporters were told to applaud rather than cheering or singing. Plans for some public viewing sites have been canceled and companies, wary of public opposition, have been reluctant to advertise, adding to the subdued mood in the Japanese capital.

But medical experts have said for weeks that no spectators will be the least risky option, amid fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a new wave of infections.

Japan has not suffered the type of explosive outbreaks of Covid-19 seen in many other countries, but has recorded more than 810,000 cases and 14,900 deaths.

The imposition of a new state of emergency in Tokyo comes as the capital on Thursday announced 896 new daily infections, near the highs last seen in mid-May.

Slow deployment of the vaccine means that only a quarter of the population has received at least one vaccine against Covid-19.