Up to 10,000 people could be allowed to watch Olympic events in Tokyo this summer, after Japanese health experts approved plans to increase the number of spectators at sports venues.
The proposed measure would take effect after the Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of the country ends on June 20 and would last until the end of August, said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister overseeing Japan’s coronavirus response.
“It is important that we maintain comprehensive anti-infective measures to prevent a spike in cases, especially as we anticipate a spread of the Delta variant,” Nishimura told a government advisory panel, which approved the viewer limit.
Spectators are currently limited to 5,000 people or 50% of a venue’s capacity, whichever is smaller.
The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee will not make a final decision on whether to allow domestic spectators to attend Olympic events until the end of this month, amid concerns that allowing large numbers of people to travel to venues could trigger a fifth wave of infections in Japan.
The final pronouncement on assistance will be made after taking into account the status of Covid infections and the prevalence of new variants, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Katō said.
Nishimura said that health experts had agreed to a government plan that would allow for increased viewers as long as there are no special coronavirus infection controls.
Tokyo, Osaka and eight other regions are in a state of emergency that will end on June 20. Bars and restaurants have been banned from selling alcohol and must close at 8 p.m., while people have been urged to avoid non-essential outings and companies have been encouraged to allow employees to work from home.
Nishimura, who is also an economy minister, said it was too early to assume the measures would be lifted on Sunday given continued pressure on hospital beds and drops in daily cases that have been less pronounced than expected.
“Now is a critical time to call on the public to suppress infections and take initiatives for a stable supply of hospital beds,” he said, according to the Kyodo news agency. The decision on whether to lift the state of emergency could be made on Thursday, media reported.
Takaji Wakita, head of an expert panel advising the Health Ministry, warned of a possible increase in infections in the near future as people spend more time away from their homes in some regions, including Tokyo.
“When the government lifts the state of emergency, it is important that the restrictions are gradually lifted,” he said.
Reports suggest that Japan is likely to maintain some rules about the opening hours of restaurants and other businesses that attract large numbers of people.
Although Japan has averted an explosive Covid outbreak like the one seen in the United Kingdom and the United States, it has reported more than 772,000 cases and more than 14,000 deaths, a relatively high number among East Asian countries.
In addition, the launch of the vaccine lags behind other major economies, with just over 5% of the population completely inoculated so far.
With sports fans abroad already banned this summer, the Japanese government wants to have a limited number of domestic spectators at the Olympic venues to create a look of atmosphere.
Their presence would also be welcomed by athletes, who face a largely joyless time in Tokyo where they must undergo regular tests and maintain social distancing, among other requirements.
On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee warned competitors violating Covid rules that they would face a series of penalties, including temporary or permanent expulsion from the Games.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism