Olympic organizers announced Thursday that they would not allow fans to attend most venues at the Games after a state of emergency was declared in Tokyo in response to a recent COVID case surge stemming from the virus’s Delta variant.
The notice marked a policy reversal from last month, when Olympic officials said domestic spectators would be permitted despite concerns that the event could trigger a massive disease outbreak, the New York Times reported. Foreign spectators were already barred from the event as of March.
Olympic organizers congregated for an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss a game plan for how to conduct the already-delayed Games given the spike in the region.
During a press briefing Thursday, Japan prime minister Yoshihide Suga recognized the emerging threat posed by the spread of the new variant but promised that the Olympic Games would be a testament to the world’s resilience and strength in combating and recovering from the pandemic.
“I want to transmit to them a message from Tokyo about overcoming hardship with effort and wisdom,” Suga said.
Tokyo reported 920 new coronavirus infections Wednesday, the highest level since May. The state of emergency will remain in place for the duration of the Olympics, which begin on July 23, after previously being lifted at the end of June.
Japan suffered a significantly lower COVID death toll than the United States and other countries and never imposed the punitive lockdowns seen in Europe, but the nation has experienced a consistently moderate contraction rate for the virus amid slow vaccine distribution.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said Thursday that Tokyo’s strict restrictions to curb and prevent virus transmission among athletes and participants “have proven to be successful.”
“We’ll support any measure which is necessary to have a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games for the Japanese people and all the participants,” he added.