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International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach arrives in Tokyo to a number of challenges two weeks ahead of the opening of the Olympic Games. Photo: IOC/Xinhua

Tokyo Olympics: fans banned from Games venues in Japan capital amid spike in Covid-19 cases

  • The announcement came after the government decided to put the host city under another state of emergency until August 22
  • Athletes have begun to arrive in Tokyo and a handful of them have tested Covid-19 positive
The Tokyo Olympics will be held without spectators at venues in the Japanese capital due to a spike in coronavirus infections, Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa said on Thursday after organisers made the unprecedented decision just two weeks ahead of the opening of the global sporting event.

The announcement came after the Japanese government decided to put Tokyo under another state of emergency until August 22, amid rising concern the Games could trigger a further surge in infections.

The new policy of barring spectators was agreed on at a meeting attended by International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach and representatives of the four bodies, the organising committee, the International Paralympic Committee, as well as the Japanese and Tokyo metropolitan governments.

“It is regrettable that we are delivering the Games in a very limited format, facing the spread of coronavirus infections,” Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said.

“I am sorry to those who purchased tickets and everyone in local areas.”

Tokyo’s neighbouring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba will also not allow spectators at their Olympic events, and the policy for the Paralympics will be decided next month, the government said.


Most Olympic competition will happen in Tokyo, but a few events will be held outside the Japanese capital.

Marukawa said that, in other areas, organisers would decide on “concrete measures” for spectators after discussions with each local governor.

As cases rise, how well are the Tokyo Games prepared for a virus crisis?

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike urged people to enjoy the Olympics by watching them at home with their families.

At the outset of the meeting, which was open to the press, Bach, who arrived in Tokyo on Thursday, said he and IPC chief Andrew Parsons continue to be “committed” to delivering the Games safely with the Japanese organisers.

“We have shown this responsibility since the day of the postponement,” Bach said. “And we will also show it today, and we will support any measure which is necessary to have a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games for the Japanese people and all the participants.”


The IOC has emphasised that Bach is fully vaccinated and will be adhering to the health and safety guidelines that all Olympic athletes, officials and media are required to follow.

“Upon his arrival, the IOC president will work remotely only,” the organisation said. “His official programme of in-person and remote meetings with arriving delegations, Games stakeholders and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee will then commence on Friday.

“His destinations are registered and his activities will be conducted under the strict rules defined by the playbook.”

A Tokyo Olympic torch relay participant runs on a promenade in the Saitama Prefecture city of Soka, eastern Japan, on July 7. Photo: Kyodo

On Thursday, Tokyo reported 896 new infections. Japan recorded about 602 additional cases a day last week, up nearly 22 per cent from the previous week. About 14.5 per cent of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated.


Health experts warned that a fifth wave of infections – fuelled by the more contagious Delta variant – could happen ahead of the Games, with the Asahi newspaper reporting that the government is on the brink of announcing that the opening ceremony may only be open to a handful of VIPs.

Organisers have already tried to limit mingling at events in the run up to the Games, calling on the public not to watch the marathons and race walking events due to take place in the northern city of Sapporo.

The Tokyo city government also cancelled the Olympic torch relay on public roads over concerns that large crowds could spread the virus. Instead of running through parts of the city, the Olympic flame will now be used to light other flames, but with no spectators present.

‘Very worrying’: Delta variant surges in Japan, Olympics spike predicted

Seishi Yoda, 79, said he was worried about the health situation but hoped the Games would go ahead safely.


“I have been a sportsman all my life and I was originally very pleased when Tokyo was chosen to host the Games,” Yoda said. “Sport makes people happy, it can unite us and bring people together, regardless of their nationality.

“Mankind is certainly facing a health crisis but my personal opinion now is that we have no choice; we have to go ahead.”

People hold a placard of IOC president Thomas Bach during a protest in June against the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: AP

Despite that, Yoda said he would not be going to Olympic events and would avoid venues in Yokohama holding soccer and baseball matches in the coming weeks.

Others are continuing the campaign against holding the Games, even at this late stage, with police arresting a 53-year-old woman in the city of Mito, north of Tokyo, as she squirted an Olympic torch-bearer with a water pistol.

In footage posted on social media, Kayako Takahashi was seen shouting “No Olympics! Stop the Games” before being apprehended by the police.

The Games are scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8.

An estimated 11,000 athletes will be taking part in the Games and they have begun arriving in Tokyo, accompanied by coaches and team officials, so as to shake off jet-lag and acclimatise to Tokyo’s hot and humid weather. They are being closely monitored for signs of the coronavirus and are limited in where they can go and who they are able to mix with.

Under the terms of the playbook drawn up to ensure athletes’ health, they have been instructed to remain in team “bubbles” and only travel between their accommodation at the Olympic Village and their training facilities.

Olympics chief says ‘no way’ to prevent Covid-19 cases among visiting teams

Health authorities have detected a number of imported Covid-19 cases, however, with a Serbian rower testing positive after arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Saturday. The athlete and his four teammates have been placed in two-week quarantine and the town of Nanto, in southwest Japan, has cancelled plans for a training camp for the Serbian team.

Two members of Uganda’s delegation tested positive after arriving in Japan last month, while officials from four nations – France, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Ghana – were found to be infected after arriving on missions earlier in the year.

Additional reporting by Kyodo, Reuters and Agence France-Presse

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Spectators banned from Games venues amid pandemic