TOKYO (NewsNation Now) — The Tokyo Olympics will take place without spectators, organizers said Thursday, as a resurgence in the pandemic forced Japan to declare a coronavirus state of emergency for the capital that will run throughout the event.
Although widely expected, the move marked a sharp turnabout from just weeks earlier, when organizers said they aimed to hold the global sporting showpiece with limited spectators.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was essential to prevent Tokyo, where the highly infectious Delta COVID-19 variant was spreading, from becoming the source of another wave of infections.
“In the Tokyo metropolitan area, the number of infected people is clearly starting to increase,” Suga said. “One of the reasons for this, in addition to the increase of people’s movements, is the influence of the new mutated strain, the Delta variant, which is pointed out to be 1.5 times more infectious than the Alpha variant.”
The ban all but robs the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8, of their last hope for pomp and public spectacle.
Kayle Browning is heading to her first Olympics for the United States on the shooting team.
“I’m trying to compare it to a World Cup,” Browning said. “When we go to opening ceremonies at World Cups, we don’t really have that many fans and our family isn’t there, at least my family doesn’t get to go to those. So I’m used to my family not being there.”
Once seen as a chance for Japan to stand large on the global stage after a devastating earthquake a decade ago, the showpiece event was delayed by the pandemic last year and has been hit by massive budget overruns.
Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said organizers had agreed to hold the Games without spectators in Tokyo and to decide according to the local situation for venues outside of the capital.
Medical experts have said for weeks that having no spectators would be the least risky option, amid widespread public fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.
“I have 100% trust that everybody there, as well as the people that are on our side of things, are taken care of and taking all the precautions that are needed,” Browning said.
Reuters contributed to this story.
Additional reporting by Rocky Swift and Eimi Yamamitsu; Writing by Antoni Slodkowski and David Dolan; editing by John Stonestreet.