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Olympics: Japan arranging opening ceremony without spectators except VIPs

OLYMPICS By Reuters | July 6th 2021
Members of the U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team rest during a practice at a training center, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, in Anaheim, California, U.S., July 5, 2021. Picture taken July 5, 2021. REUTERS

Japan's government is arranging for the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony to be held with only a reduced number of VIP spectators, the Asahi newspaper reported on Tuesday, ahead of talks with the International Olympic Committee and other organisers this week.

Events at large venues and night events after 9 p.m. would also be held without spectators, while the number of VIPs such as sponsors' guests and diplomats at the opening ceremony would be reduced sharply from an initial estimate of about 10,000, the paper said, citing multiple unidentified government sources.

Already delayed by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Games are set to open on July 23 amid concern that the influx of tens of thousands of people from around the world could unleash another wave of infections in the country.

Organisers of the Games have already banned spectators from overseas and set a cap on domestic spectators at 10,000 per venue for the Games, or 50% of capacity, despite medical experts' view that no spectators would be the “least risky” option.

Japan's government, however, looks likely to decide on Thursday to extend a state of quasi-emergency in Tokyo and three nearby prefectures beyond an original end-date of July 11, a move which will require a rethink on spectators as well.

That matter will be decided at five-way talks also on Thursday that will include the Tokyo governor and IOC President Thomas Bach, who arrives in Japan the same day.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said holding the Games without spectators was a "possibility".

Suga was keen to have fans in the stadiums, the Asahi said, but added some ruling party members favour a complete ban, especially after the ruling coalition failed to win a majority in Sunday's election for the Tokyo local assembly, partly due to voters' dissatisfaction with the government's COVID-19 response.

That poll is seen as a bellwether for a general election later this year.

The Olympic torch relay, set to reach Tokyo on July 9 and parade through the centre of the city from July 17 until the opening ceremony, will be moved off public roads for the entire period and instead torch-lighting ceremonies will be held without spectators, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.

Japan has not had the explosive COVID-19 outbreaks seen elsewhere but has recorded over 800,000 cases and more than 14,800 deaths. Only a quarter of its population has had at least one vaccination shot after an initially slow rollout.

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