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The Tokyo Olympics Will Take Place Under A State Of Emergency And Without Spectators

A woman passes the Olympic Rings near the National Stadium last month in Tokyo. There won't be any spectators at Olympic events in Japan's capital.
A woman passes the Olympic Rings near the National Stadium last month in Tokyo. There won't be any spectators at Olympic events in Japan's capital.

Japan has announced that the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead under a state of emergency and without any spectators at events in the capital.

"We must take stronger steps to prevent another nationwide outbreak, also considering the impact of coronavirus variants," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Thursday at a task force meeting after finalizing the decision.

The emergency will begin Monday and last until Aug. 22, although it could be lifted earlier, Suga added, if the pandemic situation improves.

Suga apologized that the new emergency was being declared some three weeks after the last one was lifted and for the burdens it would put on Japan's population.

Since the last emergency, Tokyo has been under a looser, quasi-emergency, which has been unable to stop a fifth wave of infections from surging.

Fans might still be allowed at venues outside Tokyo

Other areas outside the capital that are hosting events may have some spectators, Japanese media have reported, and organizers may seek exceptions to allow VIP guests, including members of the International Olympic Committee, corporate sponsors and foreign dignitaries.

Polls show the Japanese are concerned about Olympic participants spreading infections to the population at large despite promises by organizers that athletes, staff, media and other participants will be kept in a "bubble."

At least three Olympic athletes arriving in Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus, some with the Delta variant, as have some staff at the Olympic Village.

Last month, the government sped up vaccinations, opening mass inoculation centers in Tokyo and Osaka staffed by military doctors. It also planned to vaccinate employees at their workplaces and students at universities. The government hit its target of 1 million vaccinations a day but quickly exhausted supplies.

As a result, it was forced to suspend reservations for vaccinations and abort the workplace vaccination plan. At present, less than 15% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to government statistics.

The games are causing political fallout in Japan

The decision on spectators reflects the high political price politicians could pay for missteps related to the games.

Tokyo voters handed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party a setback in local elections last weekend, denying it a majority in the municipal legislature. Exit polls suggested that candidates' stances on the pandemic and the Olympics were a factor in how most respondents voted.

Brad Glosserman, deputy director of the Tama University Center for Rule-making Strategies in Tokyo, says Japan's government was angling for a soft power payoff from the games.

The games were supposed to demonstrate that Japan is "back" after decades of economic stagnation and a 2011 triple disaster that brought a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. They were meant to showcase the country's place as both a tech powerhouse and competent organizer of international extravaganzas.

"The Japanese people were all supposed to feel good about themselves for having done all these things," he adds, "and the LDP was just going to take that to the ballot" in general elections this fall.

Now, Glosserman adds, that dream seems out of reach, and the country faces the risk of a pandemic-related catastrophe.

"If there's any outbreak that can be attributed to anybody here for the Olympics, athletes, officials, whatever, it's going to just blow up" in the organizers' faces, he predicts.

Chie Kobayashi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.