Japan to announce virus emergency throughout Olympics

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Japan’s government has announced a new virus state of emergency that will run throughout the Olympics, as organizers and officials met for a “very difficult decision” on whether to allow local spectators.

With just two weeks until the July 23 opening ceremony, coronavirus infections are rising in the capital, and the spread of the more infectious Delta variant has spooked Japanese authorities.

Organizers had hoped to allow up to 10,000 local fans into Olympic venues, but local media reported they could now ban spectators from almost all venues.

Overseas spectators have already been barred, raising the prospect that Tokyo 2020 could be the first-ever Games held mostly behind closed doors.

Japan’s emergency measures are far looser than harsh lockdowns seen elsewhere, mostly limiting alcohol sales and shortening restaurant opening times. They also cap event spectators at 5,000 people.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the measures, in place until August 22, would not interfere with holding the Games.

“We will host the Games under the state of emergency,” he told reporters.

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“I think we can realize a safe and secure Games by taking these measures.”

But the decision means organizers face a tough call on whether to allow any spectators into events. Tokyo 2020 chiefs were meeting late Thursday with officials from the local and national government and the International Olympic and Paralympic committees to make a final decision.

“We need to issue a message which is strong and easy to understand from the point of view of preventing the further spread (of the virus),” Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto said at the start of the talks.

“It’s going to be a very difficult decision,” she added.

Local media said organizers were likely to bar all spectators at venues in Tokyo and three neighbouring areas, covering almost all Olympic events. A handful of competitions are being staged in other parts of the country.