Fans banned from Tokyo Olympic venues as virus emergency imposed

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Tokyo

Fans will be banned from Olympic venues in Tokyo and the capital will be under a virus state of emergency throughout the pandemic-postponed Games, Japan’s government announced Thursday just two weeks before the opening ceremony.

The decision means Tokyo 2020 will be the first Games ever held largely behind closed doors, the latest unprecedented decision about a Games that will be like no other.

When the Games were postponed last year as the scale of the pandemic became clear, there was talk that the event would be staged as proof the world had overcome the virus.

But that triumphant talk has given way to the harsh reality of new infection surges and more contagious variants, including the Delta strain which has spooked officials in Japan.

The country has seen a comparatively small virus outbreak, and avoided tough lockdowns, but it also moved slowly to start vaccinations and only about 15 percent of its population is fully vaccinated so far.

With infections rising in the capital, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday announced Tokyo would be under a virus emergency from July 12 until August 22.

The measure is significantly looser than lockdowns seen elsewhere, largely limiting alcohol sales, shortening opening hours for restaurants and capping event attendances at 5,000 people.

But it signals a growing concern about the current rate of infections, and appears to have piled pressure on Olympic organisers who had hoped to have up to 10,000 local fans in venues after barring overseas spectators.—AFP

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