No ‘least risky’ spectator option for Tokyo 2020, experts say

A general view of the Olympic Stadium (National Stadium) in Tokyo, Japan on June 17, 2021. REUTERS / Pawel Kopczynski

  • Omi expert report says no spectator is the least risky option
  • Hashimoto favors cap of up to 10,000 in Olympic stadiums-report
  • Final decision on spectators expected from Monday

TOKYO, June 18 (Reuters) – Japanese medical experts on Friday said banning spectators at the Olympics was the least risky option for hosting the Games, even though they appeared resigned to the possibility of hosting fans at sites during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers waited for months to decide whether domestic spectators would be allowed – foreign fans are already banned – underscoring their desire to save the event amid deep public opposition.

Japan has avoided the kind of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that have crippled many other countries. But vaccine rollout has been slow and the medical system pushed to the brink of collapse in parts of the country. The government’s willingness to organize the Games has been criticized by hospitals and doctors’ unions.

“There is a risk that the movement of people and the opportunities for interaction during the Olympics will spread infections and strain the medical system,” the experts, led by senior health adviser Shigeru Omi, said in a statement. report released on Friday.

They said that holding the Games without spectators was the “least risky” and most desirable option.

Still, Omi experts have previously raised the possibility that venues could accommodate up to 10,000 fans in areas where “near-emergency” measures, such as shorter dining hours, have been lifted. This reinforced the perception that the Games could well take place among spectators.

The final decision is expected at a meeting scheduled for Monday between organizers, including Tokyo 2020 and the International Olympic Committee, and representatives of the national and Tokyo governments.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said that while she accepts that the Olympics are safer without spectators, organizers are still looking for ways to have fans safe at venues, like other events.

“Since other sporting events are held with spectators, I think it is also the job of Tokyo 2020 to continue to look for ways to understand and reduce the risk of infections at the Olympics until that we have exhausted all possibilities, ”she told a news. conference after the publication of the Omi report.

PUBLIC OPPOSITION

The Games were delayed last year as the pandemic raged. The cancellation would be costly for the organizers, the Tokyo government, sponsors and insurers.

About 41% of people want the Games canceled, according to a Jiji news poll released on Friday. If the Games go ahead, 64% of the public want them without spectators, according to the poll.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government on Thursday decided to end emergency coronavirus restrictions in nine prefectures, including Tokyo, while maintaining some “near-emergency” restrictions.

Tokyo is expected to be subject to such restrictions until July 11. The current state of emergency, the third since April last year, expires on June 20.

The lifting of previous emergencies was followed by an increase in infections and strain on hospitals.

Organizers must be ready to act quickly to ban spectators or declare another state of emergency if necessary, experts said. If spectators are allowed, the rules should be strict, such as limiting fans to local residents, experts said.

‘NOT NORMAL’

Omi, a former World Health Organization official, has become increasingly outspoken about the risks of the event. He told parliament this month that it was “not normal” to host the Games during a pandemic.

Other Japanese health experts and medical organizations were much more vocal, calling for the Games to be canceled outright.

One of the signatories to Omi’s recommendations, Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, said he thought it would be better to cancel the Games, but the decision was up to the government and the organizers. .

“If the epidemic situation worsens, no spectators and the cancellation of the Games in the middle (of the event) should be discussed,” he told Reuters.

The country has recorded more than 776,000 cases and more than 14,200 deaths, while only 15% of its population has received at least one vaccination against COVID-19.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka Editing by Chris Reese

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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