TOKYO – Overseas spectators are not allowed to attend the Summer Olympics in Japan, organizers said on Saturday. They give a huge concession to the reality of Covid-19, even though they have estimated plans to hold the largest sporting event in the world.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee in Tokyo, promised at a news conference on Saturday that the lack of international spectators would not spoil the Games.
“The Tokyo 2020 Games will be completely different from the past, but the essence remains the same,” said Ms. Hashimoto said. “Athletes will put everything at stake and inspire people with their excellent performances.”
The Tokyo Games, which start in July, were originally planned for 2020, but were delayed by a year due to the pandemic. The organizing committee in Tokyo has tried to develop security protocols to protect participants and locals from the virus.
Concerns have been high in Japan, with large majorities saying in the polls that the Games should not be held this summer. Saturday’s decision has been predicted in the Japanese media for weeks. The Paralympic Games, which start in August, will also ban foreign spectators.
Excluding foreign spectators, it is unlikely to allay the public’s concern about the Games, as thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and journalists will continue to attend the event. Nearly 80 percent of the public wants to postpone or cancel the Olympics completely, according to some polls.
IOC president Thomas Bach has urged national organizing committees to secure vaccines for athletes, and he announced this month that China has offered to offer vaccinations to participants who need one before the Games.
But not all local spectators have the chance to be vaccinated before the Olympics open on July 23. In Japan, where the vaccine is relatively slow, the population will not be vaccinated near the time the Games start.
According to a New York Times database, Japan had approximately 455,000 Covid-19 cases and 8,797 deaths during the pandemic, far fewer than in the United States and Western Europe. The country declared a widespread state of emergency in early January following an increase in infections. Since then, most areas have lifted the declaration. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced this week that it would end in Tokyo on Sunday.
As part of its efforts to stop the spread of new, more contagious variants of Covid-19, Japan has also banned all new entry into the country from abroad since the end of December, except for the Olympic athletes and some of their environs. The exception was controversial: foreign students and workers still could not enter the country, and the foreign ministry gave no clear indication as to when it might change.
Regardless of the opposition, officials plan to officially begin the countdown to the Games on Thursday with the torch relay, which begins in Fukushima. As with the events this summer, the number of spectators will be limited.