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Updated on July 27, 2021 8:24 PM

Olympics: ‘least risky’ option for Tokyo 2020 spectators, experts say

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TOKYO (AP) – Japanese medical experts said on Friday that banning spectators from the Olympics was the least risky option for hosting the Games, even as they seemed resigned to the possibility of fans in the venues during the Tokyo pandemic. COVID-19.

The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have postponed a decision on whether to allow domestic viewers (foreign fans are already banned) for months, underscoring their desire to save the event amid deep public opposition.

Japan has avoided the kind of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that paralyzed many other countries. But deployment of the vaccine has been slow and the medical system has reached its limits in some parts of the country. Hospitals and doctors’ unions have criticized the government’s initiative to hold the games.

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

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

However, Omi experts have already raised the possibility that venues could host up to 10,000 fans in areas where “near-emergency” measures such as shorter restaurant hours have been lifted. That has increased the perception that games can well be held with spectators.

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The final decision will be made at a meeting starting Monday between organizers, including Tokyo 2020 and the International Olympic Committee, and representatives from the national and Tokyo governments.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said that while she accepted that the Olympics would be safer without spectators, organizers were still looking for ways to safely have fans at venues, such as other events.

“Given that other sporting events are being held with spectators, I think it is also the job of Tokyo 2020 to continue looking for ways to understand and reduce the risk of infections in the Olympic Games until we have exhausted all possibilities,” he told a news story. conference after the publication of the Omi report.

PUBLIC OPPOSITION

The Games were delayed last year because of the pandemic. Cancellation would be costly for organizers, the Tokyo government, sponsors and insurers.

About 41% of people want the Games canceled, according to a Jiji news poll published on Friday. If the games continue, 64% of the public want them without spectators, according to the survey.

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

Tokyo is scheduled to be under 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 has been followed by an increase in infections and tensions in hospitals.

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Organizers must be prepared 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.

‘IT IS 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 hold the Games during a pandemic.

Other Japanese health experts and medical organizations have been much more vocal and have called for the Games to be canceled entirely.

One of the signatories to Omi’s recommendations, Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, said he believed that canceling the Games would be best, but that the decision was up to the government and the organizers.

“If the epidemic situation worked, spectators should not be debated and games canceled in the middle (of the event),” 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 COVID-19 vaccine. (Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; written by Linda Sieg and David Dolan; edited by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel and Giles Elgood)

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