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Spectators to face Olympic ban as Tokyo declares coronavirus emergency

The ban is the latest blow to the troubled Olympics, already delayed by a year because of the pandemic.
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/ Source: Reuters

TOKYO —The Tokyo Olympics will take place without spectators, organizers said on Thursday, as a resurgent pandemic forced Japan to declare a coronavirus state of emergency for the capital that will run throughout the event.

It was the latest blow to the troubled Olympics, already delayed by a year because of the pandemic and plagued by a series of setbacks, including massive budget overruns.

Although widely expected, the move marked a sharp turnabout from just weeks earlier, when organizers said they aimed to hold the global sporting showpiece with limited spectators.

"It is regrettable that we are delivering the Games in a very limited format, facing the spread of coronavirus infections," Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said following talks between government officials, Tokyo organizers and Olympic and paralympic representatives.

Image: Staff wearing face masks and shields wait for the arrival of foreign athletes at Haneda Airport ahead of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo
Staff wearing face masks and shields wait for the arrival of athletes at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Thursday.Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

"I am sorry to those who purchased tickets and everyone in local areas."

(Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was essential to prevent Tokyo, where the highly infectious delta Covid-19 variant was spreading, from becoming the source of another wave of infections.)

NBCUniversal, NBC News' parent company, paid $7.5 billion to extend its U.S. Olympics media rights until 2032. NBCUniversal is the International Olympic Committee's largest single source of income.

The ban all but robs the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8, of their last hope for pomp and public spectacle.

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Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said organizers had agreed to hold the Games without spectators in Tokyo, and to decide according to the local situation for venues outside of the capital.

Organizers had previously banned international fans and set a cap on domestic spectators at 50 percent of capacity, up to 10,000 people per venue. Supporters had been told to clap rather than cheer or sing. Plans for some public viewing sites have been canceled and companies, wary of public opposition, have been hesitant about advertising, adding to a subdued mood in the Japanese capital.

But medical experts have said for weeks that having no spectators would be the least risky option, amid widespread public fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.

Japan has not suffered the kind of explosive Covid-19 outbreaks seen in many other countries but has had more than 810,000 cases and 14,900 deaths.

The imposition of a new state of emergency in Tokyo comes as the capital announced 896 new daily infections on Thursday, near highs last seen in mid-May.

A slow vaccine rollout has meant only a quarter of the population has had at least one Covid-19 vaccination shot.