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Suga no spectators possible for Tokyo Olympics as organizers set to discuss issue

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The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will hold an online meeting Monday during which they are expected to agree on allowing up to 10,000 spectators at venues during this summer’s games, providing the number does not exceed 50% of capacity, amid persistent concern about the spread of the coronavirus.

The representatives of five organizing bodies, including International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, will finalize a policy over spectator limits, having already barred those from overseas.

They are expected, however, to leave open the option of holding the games without spectators in case the infection situation worsens before or after the Olympics begin on July 23.

Ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday that he would not rule out holding the Olympics without spectators if the capital was under a state of emergency due to COVID-19 worries.

“In the event a state of emergency was declared then we can’t rule out not having spectators,” Suga told reporters during a tour of a vaccination site in Tokyo.

The Japanese organizers had initially sought to set the policy by the end of spring, but the schedule was delayed as Tokyo has been under COVID-19 states of emergency for most of this year due to recurring waves of infections, driven by highly contagious variants of the virus.

The organizers have said they will apply the Japanese government’s policy on spectator caps at large events to the Olympics, implying they will allow 50% of venue capacity or up to 10,000 fans, whichever is smaller.

Tokyo shifted to a quasi-state of emergency from Monday, a day after a third state of emergency since late April ended. But medical experts, including Japan’s top COVID-19 adviser Shigeru Omi, have called for the games to be held behind closed doors.

Under guidelines drafted by the organizing committee, spectators are advised to travel to and from venues directly without stopping anywhere in order to limit the movement of people and thus reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

The committee has sold tickets for 42% of the total seats of the venues. But tickets purchased for about 20% to 30% of events have topped 50% of venue capacity.

The committee is considering holding a lottery to determine who will be allowed to watch, according to officials familiar with the matter.

Since the games’ one-year postponement in March last year, the organizers have been reworking the preparations for holding the major international event amid a global health crisis.

However, the Japanese public remains unconvinced that it is possible to stage the Olympics and Paralympics safely, despite repeated pledges to do so by the government and the organizers.

A nationwide survey conducted by Kyodo News over the weekend found that around 86% of people in Japan are concerned about a resurgence in COVID-19 cases if the games are held.

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