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Editorial: Tokyo Olympic talks lack deep discussion on preventing virus infections

Visiting International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has agreed with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to go ahead with plans to have spectators attend the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, which have been postponed until next summer.

    But with no end to the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, did the two sides sufficiently discuss the risk of infections?

    Up until now, Bach has ruled out the possibility of the games being held without any spectators, and the focal point of discussions has been on whether or not to limit the number of spectators if the games do go ahead.

    The Japanese government is considering exempting people who arrive in Japan to see the games from undergoing a 14-day quarantine, as well as allowing them to use public transport. The reason is that restrictions would effectively make attending the games difficult.

    However, the numbers of novel coronavirus infections are surging in Europe, and showing no signs of being brought under control in the United States. Japan, too, has seen a resurgence of the virus, and a sense of crisis is growing.

    Discussing the issue while assuming from the outset that people will be allowed into Japan from overseas to view the games is going about things the wrong way. First there is a need to consider the risk of infections in more detail while hearing the opinions of experts.

    Recently tests have been held with Japanese pro baseball games with stadiums filled to 80% of capacity or more, and around 27,000 people packed into Yokohama Stadium in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, which will be the venue for Olympic baseball and softball events.

    Citing this example, Bach stated that he was confident that an appropriate number of spectators would be able to attend the Tokyo Olympics. However, the focus of this experiment was testing new technology to prevent infections. It was not proven that spectators face no risk of infection.

    With infections spreading across Japan, the government has decided to keep restricting attendance at major events to a maximum of 50% of capacity until the end of February next year. In line with this, a decision on how many spectators to allow at Olympic and Paralympic events will be delayed until next spring.

    Unless there is a decision on how many spectators to accommodate when the games are held, then it will be difficult to make concrete plans with regard to the quarantine system, the placement of security staff and volunteers, transport and accommodation, among other issues.

    During an international gymnastics event held in Tokyo this month, athletes and other related people were kept apart from others when they were transported as well as at their accommodation facilities, and virus-related testing was also thoroughly carried out.

    The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, however, are massive events at which millions of people from within Japan and overseas are set to gather. With the state of infections worldwide changing from one moment to the next, officials should carefully debate how the games are held as well as the issue of allowing spectators at events.

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