The coronavirus pandemic is forcing the organizers of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo to limit participation in the opening ceremony of the game to a limited number of VIPs, Japanese media have reported.
The curtain cast at the 68,000-seat main stadium on July 23 will only be seen by people associated with sponsors along with diplomats and other special guests, with the number greatly reduced from an initial estimate of 10,000, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun said on Tuesday, citing several unidentified sources.
In addition, Olympic competitions are held at major venues and those scheduled for after 1 p.m. 21, without spectators to discourage people from spending time in the capital once the events are over.
The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee has already banned overseas spectators and set a limit for domestic spectators of 10,000 per. Meeting place or 50% of the capacity. However, the cap could be lowered if Tokyo is still covered by quasi-emergency virus measures when the Games open – an increasingly likely prospect as cases continue to rise in the capital.
Organizers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have pushed ahead with the Games despite widespread public opposition and warnings from medical experts that the arrival of tens of thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and journalists could trigger the spread of Covid 19 in Japan, where only 13.8% of the population is fully vaccinated.
IOC President Thomas Bach will meet with the Japanese government and Olympic officials to discuss attendance on Thursday, the same day that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to extend the state of emergency in Tokyo beyond the initial July 11 deadline.
The measures require bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 19 and closes an hour later.
With packed venues an impossibility, Suga was eager for at least some spectators to watch live sports, but has said a ban is still an option. Members of his Liberal Democratic Party are said to be favoring a ban after they did poorly in Sunday’s city council elections in Tokyo, partly because of voters’ anger over the government’s handling of the pandemic.
“We need to be on alert,” Suga told reporters this month after infections began to rise again in Tokyo, adding that “it is not possible to have no spectators.”
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee, agreed. “It’s not that we’m determined to have spectators regardless of the situation,” she said last week.
Another symbolically important precursor to the sporting action will also undergo a drastic remake due to virus issues. The Olympic torch relay, which is due to reach Tokyo on Friday and parade through the city center from July 17 for the opening ceremony, will be moved from public roads throughout the period and replaced with torchlight ceremonies closed to the public, said the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.
In addition, the governor of Hokkaido, Naomichi Suzuki, has asked Tokyo 2020 organizers to consider banning spectators from the roads of marathons and running tracks.
Suzuki has asked committee officials to have strict virus prevention measures in place when the events are held in the island’s largest city, Sapporo, from August 5 to 8, according to the Kyodo news agency.
Agencies contributed reporting