Japan’s top medical experts warned on Friday that holding the Olympics during the COVID-19 pandemic could increase infections, and said banning all spectators was the least risky option, setting up a possible collision with organisers.
The report, led by top health adviser Shigeru Omi, was released after Tokyo 2020’s organising committee chief told the Sankei newspaper she wanted to allow up to 10,000 spectators at stadiums for the global sport extravaganza, which kicks off on July 23.
Japan is pushing ahead with hosting the multi-billion-dollar delayed Games despite worries about another surge in COVID-19 infections and strong public opposition, although organisers have banned spectators from overseas.
Cancellation of the event – originally meant to showcase a revitalised nation after decades of doldrums – would be costly for organisers, the Tokyo government, sponsors and insurers.
“This event is different from ordinary sports events in scale and social interest and because it overlaps with summer vacations … there is a risk the movement of people and opportunities to interact during the Olympics will spread infections and strain the medical system,” the experts said. “Holding with Games without spectators is the least risky option and we think desirable.”
A final decision on domestic spectators will be made at a meeting to be held as early as Monday among Tokyo 2020 organisers, the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, Japanese government and Tokyo Metropolitan government.
“I would like it to be held with spectators. I plan to head into the five-way meeting with that in mind,” the Sankei newspaper quoted Tokyo 2020 head Seiko Hashimoto as saying in an interview published late on Thursday.
Hashimoto said the advice from Omi would inform talks among the IOC and others. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government decided on Thursday to ease emergency coronavirus curbs in nine prefectures including Tokyo while keeping some “quasi-emergency” restrictions.—Reuters