Japan Extending State of Emergency Likely to Keep Olympics Without Spectators

Japan decided Friday to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas for 20 more days. Olympics organizers will decide by June 20 whether to allow local fans at the games. Overseas spectators were already banned a month ago.

"We would like to make a decision as soon as possible [on fans], but after the state of emergency is lifted we will assess," Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto said at a weekly briefing.

With the games set to open July 23, COVID-19 cases remain high, and medical systems in several cities remain overwhelmed. Japan has a plan to prioritize vaccines for athletes, but only 2.3 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. Hashimoto said organizers need to take into account the possible strain on local medical services before deciding to allow spectators.

"There are many people who are saying that for the Olympic Games we have to run without spectators, although other sports are accepting spectators," she said. "So we need to keep that in mind. We need to avoid that the local medical services are affected. We need to take those things into consideration before agreeing on the spectator count."

Japan Extend State of Emergency
Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response Director Tomoya Saito attends a May 28 press conference after a roundtable on COVID-19 countermeasures at the Tokyo 2020 Games. Franck Robichon/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

The current state of emergency in the capital and eight other metropolitan areas was to end next Monday, but hospitals in some areas are still overflowing with COVID-19 patients and serious cases have recently hit new highs.

The 20-day extension covers nine areas ranging from Hokkaido in the north to Fukuoka in the south. A 10th area, the southern island prefecture of Okinawa, is already under emergency status through June 20.

The Olympics had a one-year postponement due to the pandemic, and worries about new variants and Japan's slow vaccination rollout have triggered calls from the public, medical experts and even a sponsor to cancel the games. Experts have warned that the variants are infecting more people, leaving them seriously ill and flooding hospitals.

Japan has lagged on vaccinations due to bureaucratic and planning missteps and shortages and the current phase targeting older adults is not scheduled to finish before the games start.

Still, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his government are determined to host the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee has also said the games will go ahead even if host city Tokyo is under emergency measures.

Japan has reported about 730,000 coronavirus cases and more than 12,700 deaths.

Coronavirus State of Emergency Japan
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, right, attends the government task force meeting on COVID-19 measures at the prime minister's residence in Tokyo on May 28. Japan extended a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas for 20 more days on Friday. Yoshitaka Sugawara/Kyodo News via AP