Tokyo Olympics Forgoing Fans Amid State of Emergency Declaration for Japan

Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa announced Thursday to the Japanese news agency Kyodo that there will be no fans at the Tokyo Olympics as Japan enters another state of emergency.

The decision comes just two weeks before the opening of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, and was made by both the International Olympic Committee and Japanese organizers. Spectators will now only be able to view the games on TV.

Fans from other countries were banned months ago, but the state of emergency means that the ban will extend to local fans as well. The state of emergency was declared by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in an attempt to limit the further spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"Taking into consideration the impact of the Delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures," Suga said.

The current state of emergency ends on Sunday, but the new state of emergency will begin on Monday and run through Aug. 22. The Olympics will be held entirely under the state of emergency, as they run from July 23 to Aug. 8. The Paralympic Games begin in Tokyo on Aug. 24.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

No fans at Tokyo Olympics
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a press conference on a new Covid-19 coronavirus state of emergency stretching throughout the Tokyo Olympics, at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on July 8, 2021. Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa announced Thursday that there will be no fans at the Tokyo Olympics due to the state of emergency.(NICOLAS DATICHE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The emergency declaration made for a rude arrival in Japan for IOC President Thomas Bach, who landed in Tokyo on Thursday just hours before the new measures were announced. He was to spend three days in self-isolation at the five-star hotel that lodges IOC members.

Suga, who had long favored fans, hinted at a no-fan Olympics in announcing the state of emergency.

"I have already said I won't hesitate to have no spectators," he added.

Just two weeks ago, organizers and the IOC planned to allow venues to be filled to 50 percent of capacity but with crowds not to exceed 10,000. The state of emergency has forced a late turnaround, which was always an option if infections got worse.

"We will have to consider the option of no spectators," Marukawa said in opening remarks with the IOC and others as they went into meetings to discuss a ban on fans.

The main focus of the emergency is a request for bars, restaurants and karaoke parlors serving alcohol to close. A ban on serving alcohol is a key step to tone down Olympic-related festivities and keep people from drinking and partying. Tokyo residents are expected to face stay-home requests and watch the games on TV from home.

"How to stop people enjoying the Olympics from going out for drinks is a main issue," Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said.

The present state of emergency ends Sunday. Tokyo reported 896 new cases on Thursday, up from 673 a week earlier. It's the 19th straight day that cases have topped the mark set seven days prior. New cases on Wednesday hit 920, the highest total since 1,010 were reported on May 13.

The no-fan atmosphere will include the opening ceremony at the $1.4 billion National Stadium, which is traditionally the most-watched event during the Olympics.

"It's not too late. Cancel or postpone it," said Yukio Edano, the head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party to Suga's LDP

The uptick in infections has also forced the Tokyo city government to pull the Olympic torch relay off capital streets, allowing it to run only on remote islands off the Tokyo coast. It's unclear how the torch will enter the stadium for the opening ceremony.

"The infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it," Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, said.

He urged authorities to quickly take tough measures ahead of the Olympics, with summer vacations approaching.

Omi has repeatedly called for a ban on spectators, and has said it's "abnormal" to hold the Olympics during a pandemic.

Separately, a government COVID-19 advisory panel met Wednesday and expressed concerns about the ongoing resurgence of the infections.

"Two-thirds of the infections in the capital region are from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of the infections to neighboring areas," said Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The Olympics are pushing ahead against most medical advice, partially because the postponement stalled the IOC's income flow. It gets almost 75 percent of its income from selling broadcast rights, and estimates suggest it would lose $3 billion to $4 billion if the Olympics were canceled.

About 11,000 Olympians and 4,400 Paralympians are expected to enter Japan, with tens of thousands of officials, judges, administrators, sponsors, broadcasters, and media also entering. The IOC says more than 80 percent of residents of the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.

Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15 percent of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared with 47.4 percent in the United States and almost 50 percent in Britain.

Thomas Bach
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach waves from the vehicle to media upon his arrival an accommodation Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Tokyo. Bach arrived on Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Tokyo as Japan Prime Minister Yoshihde Suga was set to declare a state of emergency that is likely to result in a ban on fans from the Tokyo Olympics as coronavirus infections spread across the capital. Eugene Hoshiko, Pool/AP Photo