Tokyo Olympics to ban overseas spectators to curb Covid-19 risk


TOKYO – Foreign spectators will not be allowed to attend the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, event organizers said, a move to reduce the possibility of the coronavirus spreading at the Games and increase lukewarm support for the event among the Japanese.

The Tokyo Games are scheduled to open on July 23, a year later than planned after the pandemic forced a delay. A decision will be made in April on viewer levels for those in Japan, local organizers said.

Tickets sold to foreign spectators will be refunded, organizers said. Around 600,000 tickets have been sold to people residing outside of Japan and around 4 million to people in Japan.

“Our first priority was, is and continues to be the safety of all participants in the Olympic Games and, of course, of the Japanese people to whom we owe so much respect,” said International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

Japan has been much less affected than the United States and many Western countries by the coronavirus, with fewer than 9,000 deaths. The spread of new variants of the virus has deepened concerns in Japan that an influx of visitors for the Olympics could accelerate Covid-19 cases.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of Japanese would prefer the Games to be postponed again or canceled rather than held this year. Concerns about the spread of the virus are the main concern.

A poll conducted in mid-March by the Mainichi newspaper found that 49% of respondents wanted the Games postponed or canceled, while 45% were willing to hold them this year as scheduled. Of the latter group, the majority thought that foreign viewers should be excluded. The survey gave no margin for error.

Japan has just started launching the vaccine, but Games organizers have said they will have enough social distancing and hygiene measures to control the spread of the virus. The IOC has said that it would like athletes to be vaccinated.

Norio Sugaya, an infectious disease specialist at Keio University in Tokyo, said that even if people coming from abroad for the Olympics are limited to athletes, support staff, the media and other essential participants, infections could spread and lead to a few hundred Olympics. related deaths. “Everyone is wondering if this is something we should do when taking such a risk.” he said.

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Organizers did not say what would happen to the refunded tickets, but they could allow overall spectator levels at the event to be lowered to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. Any reduction in ticket revenue would be a severe blow to Japanese organizers, who have budgeted to receive more than $ 800 million from ticket sales.

Businesses that have already been hit hard by the coronavirus, such as hotels and restaurants, will lose revenue from foreign tourists coming to Japan for the Games.

Tokyo 2020 Executive Director Toshiro Muto said local organizers do not intend to cover cancellation fees for any flights and accommodation booked by foreign spectators. He also said that the guests of the sponsors of the Games could attend the event if they are involved in helping with the Olympic operations, but not if they are solely spectators.

Japan has pushed to save the Tokyo 2020 Olympics this summer. WSJ’s Alastair Gale reports from Tokyo. (Posted on February 5, 2021) Photo: Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press

Pre-Games events are scheduled to begin on March 25 with the start of the Olympic torch relay in Japan ending with the opening ceremony. Preparation for the Games has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the resignation of the Tokyo 2020 president and creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies following sexist comments.

New Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said a recent modest increase in new virus cases in Japan contributed to the decision to ban viewers coming from abroad for the Games. “To make sure we didn’t create a burden on the medical system, we had to make this decision,” said Ms. Hashimoto.

The agreement was finalized in a meeting between Mr. Bach, Ms. Hashimoto, the Olympic minister of Japan, the governor of Tokyo and the head of the International Paralympic Committee. It was expected after government officials recently told mainstream Japanese media that they would block viewers from abroad.

Write to Alastair Gale at [email protected]

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