The organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics is considering barring international spectators from attending the games to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With less than five months before the games are to start, the rise of new coronavirus variants around the world has become a concern for organizers who are trying to hold a “safe and secure” Olympics.
Stakeholders for the games, including Japan’s Olympics minister Tamayo Marukawa, chief organizer Seiko Hashimoto, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and IOC President Thomas Bach, agreed at a Wednesday meeting to make a final call on overseas spectators by the end of this month.
Up to 1 million spectators were originally expected to attend the Tokyo Games, which were postponed last year because of the pandemic. Visitors from countries and regions with a small number of COVID cases may still be allowed to enter Japan during the games. Organizers also plan to decide on the maximum number of spectators at each venue next month. The capacity limits will abide by the Japanese government’s guidelines regarding large events.
“We are doing everything to ensure the safety of the games for all participants,” Bach told reporters on Wednesday. “But again, also for the Japanese people and for the population of Tokyo in particular.”
Marukawa said the spread of new virus variants was hard to predict. “Given the extremely difficult situation we are in, I said [at the meeting] that we need to carefully weigh our options,” she said.
Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that the government was “not considering” barring spectators from abroad. Organizers plan to first make a decision regarding overseas spectators to shore up public support for the Tokyo Games. Many in Japan worry that an influx of travelers from abroad could accelerate the virus’ spread and overwhelm medical facilities in the country.
In terms of the number of spectators allowed, Tokyo and other areas under Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency currently cap attendees of sports games at 5,000 or 50% of maximum capacity, whichever is smaller. The 50% ceiling is expected to remain in effect in greater Tokyo until at least the end of next month.
“We can’t give special treatment to the Olympics,” a government official said. “The decision will depend on the restrictions in effect at the time.”
On Wednesday, the Asia editor of British newspaper The Times became the latest to call for the games to be canceled.
“If far smaller and shorter festivals are to be sacrificed in the interests of global public health, it seems obvious that such a massive event, spread over four weeks in the biggest city in the world, should also be canceled,” wrote Tokyo-based Richard Lloyd Parry, citing the cancellation of the Glastonbury music festival.