Up to 10,000 fans will be allowed at Tokyo Olympic events but organisers warned that the competition could move behind closed doors if coronavirus infections surge.
“In light of the government’s restrictions on public events, the spectator limit for the Olympic Games will be set at 50 percent of venue capacity, up to a maximum of 10,000 people at all venues,” a joint statement released on Monday said.
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The decision was announced after five-way talks involving Tokyo 2020 organisers and officials from Japan’s government, the Tokyo government, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee.
A decision on spectators at the Paralympics will be delayed until July 16. The Tokyo Games are set to open on July 23.
“A framework will be implemented to keep monitoring the status of infections and medical care using expert advice,” the statement added.
The latest move contradicts recommendations by the country’s top medical adviser, Dr Shigeru Omi, who said last week the safest way to hold the Olympics would be without fans.
Omi had previously called it “abnormal” to hold the Olympics during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking before the meeting, IOC chief Thomas Bach said he was “absolutely sure that it will be a decision to best protect the Japanese people and all participants”.
Foreign fans were banned several months ago. Officials say local fans will be under strict rules – they will not be allowed to cheer, must wear masks, and are being told to go straight home afterwards.
Organisers say between 3.6 to 3.7 million tickets are in the hands of Japanese residents.
The Games were delayed by a year because of the global health crisis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it would discuss managing COVID-19 risks with Japanese authorities and the IOC.
Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies programme, noted that infection rates in Japan have been falling, and said they compared favourably to other countries that were hosting large scale events.
“What we are glad of is that the rates of disease have fallen persistently and consistently in Japan over the last number of weeks,” Ryan told a news conference in Geneva on Monday.
Japan has reported more than 786,000 coronavirus cases, including nearly 14,500 deaths.
But vaccine rollout has been slower there than it has been in many developed countries, only picking up speed in recent days. About 6.5 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.
On Thursday, Japan’s government approved lifting Tokyo’s virus emergency measures a month before the Olympics, but set new restrictions that could sharply limit fans at the sporting events.
The state of emergency in place in Tokyo began in late April and largely limits bar and restaurant opening hours and bans them from selling alcohol.
Organisers also face a sceptical public. Polls have regularly shown most Japanese would prefer to see the Games delayed further or cancelled altogether.
Recent surveys suggest a softening of opposition, with more in favour of holding the Games than cancelling it – if postponement is not offered as an option.