Posted July 8, 2021 1:18 pm by

Japan announces virus emergency throughout Olympics

Tokyo (AFP), Jul 8 – Japan’s government on Thursday announced a new virus state of emergency stretching throughout the Olympics, as reports said organisers could bar fans from almost all events at the Games.

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 officials.

The rising cases threaten to derail plans to let up to 10,000 local fans into Olympic venues, and could mean Tokyo 2020 is the first ever Games held behind closed doors.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the emergency measures — which are far looser than the harsh lockdowns seen in other parts of the world — will be in place until August 22.

But the government could lift the emergency earlier “if the effect of vaccines becomes clear and an improvement is seen in the situation of hospital beds”, Suga said.

Earlier in the day, Japan’s minister in charge of the virus response Yasutoshi Nishimura warned that new Covid-19 cases were rising in the capital.

“As the movement of people increases, the more infectious Delta variant now accounts for around 30 percent of cases. This is expected to expand further,” he added.

Under the virus emergency, alcohol will be banned at bars and restaurants, which will have to close by 8pm, Nishimura said. Events such as concerts and conferences will have to end by 9pm.

IOC chief Thomas Bach arrived in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon © POOL/AFP / Eugene Hoshiko

And crucially, spectators at events will be capped at 5,000 people or 50 percent venue capacity, whichever is less.

The decision puts pressure on Olympic organisers who are scrambling to make a final ruling on how many local fans, if any, will be in the stands at the Games.

Several Japanese media outlets said organisers were now likely to bar spectators from all competition venues in Tokyo and three surrounding areas.

Tokyo 2020 organisers are expected to meet with local and national government officials and the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees as early as Thursday evening to make the key decision.

– IOC chief arrives –

While Japan has so far experienced a relatively small virus outbreak, with around 14,900 deaths despite avoiding harsh lockdowns, its vaccination programme has moved comparatively slowly.

Just over 15 percent of the population is fully vaccinated so far, and there are concerns that the Delta variant could produce a new wave that might Read More…