Olympics: Tokyo 2020 chief says won’t insist on spectators ‘at all costs’

Holding the Games without spectators would be the "least risky" option, medical experts said last month. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Tokyo Olympics organisers will not insist on allowing spectators "at all costs", the head of the Games organising committee said on Friday (July 2), amid concerns about a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections three weeks before the sports extravaganza begins.

Polls show many Japanese oppose holding the Olympics given warnings from health experts that it could unleash another wave of infections. Delayed by a year due to the pandemic, the Games are scheduled to start on July 23.

"It's not that we want to organise the Olympics with spectators at all costs," Tokyo 2020 organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto told a news conference.

She said the organisers wanted to press ahead with preparations to ensure the event could be held in a "safe and secure manner" that would restore the public's trust.

Having decided to ban overseas spectators, the organisers have capped the number of domestic spectators at 10,000 per venue for the Games, or 50 per cent of capacity, despite medical experts saying no spectators would be the "least risky" option.

Prime Minister Yoshihide said on Thursday that having no spectators remained a "possibility".

And on Friday, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, at her first news conference after leaving hospital, where she was treated for exhaustion, also said having no spectators was an option if the pandemic worsened.

A decision on spectators will be made at five-way talks that will include the Tokyo governor and head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), officials said. Kyodo news agency said those talks would be held on July 8.

On Friday, Yomiuri newspaper reported organisers are leaning towards banning spectators from night-time events and large-scale venues.

Brushing aside concerns the Olympics could become a "superspreader" event, Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics and a member of the IOC, told CNBC on Thursday the Games "will go ahead and they should go ahead".

But the Euro 2020 football tournament - which has been blamed this week for a surge in coronavirus cases as fans flocked to stadiums, bars and spectator zones across Europe - is likely to further fuel worries in Japan.

Japan is likely to extend by two weeks or more its Covid-19 containment measures in the greater Tokyo area after the current July 11 deadline, government sources have said.

Japan has not suffered the explosive Covid-19 outbreak seen elsewhere but the potential spread of more contagious variants and an initially slow vaccine rollout have fuelled concerns.

Tokyo recorded 660 cases of the virus on Friday, the 13th straight day of week-on-week gains.

Since the pandemic first struck, Japan has recorded more than 796,800 Covid-19 cases and over 14,770 deaths.

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