TOKYO – Foreign spectators will not be able to attend the Tokyo Summer Olympics, organizers of the event said, a move to reduce the possibility of the coronavirus spreading at the Games and to build lukewarm support for the event among the Japanese.
The Tokyo Games are set to open on July 23, a year later than expected after the pandemic forced a delay. A decision on spectator levels for those in Japan will be made in April, local organizers said.
“Our first priority was, is and remains the safety of all participants in the Olympic Games, and of course of the Japanese people to whom we owe so much respect,” said President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach.
Japan has been significantly less affected than the United States and many Western countries by the coronavirus, with fewer than 9,000 deaths. The spread of new variants of the virus has heightened fears in Japan that an influx of visitors to the Olympics could accelerate cases of Covid-19.
Public opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Japanese would rather see the Games again postponed or canceled rather than staged this year. Concerns about the spread of the virus are the main concern.
A poll conducted in mid-March by the Mainichi newspaper found that 49% of respondents wanted the Games to be postponed or canceled, while 45% were willing to hold them this year as planned. In the latter group, most believed that foreign viewers should be excluded. The survey did not provide a margin of error.
Japan has just started rolling out its vaccine, but Games organizers have said they will have sufficient social distancing and hygiene measures to control the spread of the virus. The IOC has said it wants athletes to be vaccinated.
Norio Sugaya, an infectious disease specialist at Keio University in Tokyo, said that while people coming from overseas to the Olympics were limited to athletes, support staff, media and other vital participants , infections could spread and lead to a few hundred Olympics. related deaths. “Everyone is wondering if this is something we should do by taking such a risk?” he said.
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Organizers have not said what will happen to the refunded tickets, but they could help reduce the overall level of spectators at the event to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Any reduction in ticket revenue would be a blow to Japanese organizers, who are expected to receive more than $ 800 million from ticket sales.
Businesses that have already been hit hard by the coronavirus, such as hotels and restaurants, will lose income from foreign tourists coming to Japan for the Games.
Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said local organizers have no plans to cover cancellation fees for flights and accommodation booked by overseas spectators. He also said guests from Games sponsors might be able to attend the event if they are involved in helping with Olympic operations, but not if they are spectators only.
Events leading up to the Games are scheduled to begin on March 25 with the start of the Olympic Torch Relay around Japan which will end with the Opening Ceremony. Preparation for the Games has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the resignation of the Tokyo 2020 president and creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies over sexist comments.
Tokyo 2020 new president Seiko Hashimoto said a recent slight increase in the number of new cases of the virus in Japan contributed to the decision to ban overseas spectators for the Games. “In order to make sure we didn’t create a burden on the medical system, we had to make this decision,” Ms. Hashimoto said.
The deal was reached during a meeting between Mr Bach, Ms Hashimoto, the Olympic Minister of Japan, the Governor of Tokyo and the head of the International Paralympic Committee. This was expected after government officials recently announced to mainstream Japanese media that they would block viewers from abroad.
—Miho Inada contributed to this article.
Write to Alastair Gale at [email protected]
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