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Japan gov't weighs staging Tokyo Olympics without spectators

A man and a woman walk near the Olympic rings floating in the water in the Odaiba area in Tokyo on Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government has started weighing the possibility of staging this summer's Tokyo Olympics without spectators to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, several officials said Friday.

    On the assumption that Tokyo and the rest of the world may not successfully bring infections under control by July 23, the opening of the Olympics, the idea of a fan-free games has emerged within the government in a bid to avoid their cancellation or another postponement, and mitigate potential damage to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's administration.

    The government has started considering three options -- not imposing a limit on spectators, placing a ceiling of 50 percent of the venues' capacity or holding events behind closed doors, according to the officials.

    Japan has been preparing to hold the Summer Games with spectators -- even considering exempting from quarantine fans coming from countries with infections under control. However, the capital and many other parts of the country have seen a surge in daily cases of the virus.

    "It's unlikely that (the pandemic) will be contained by this summer," a senior government official said, adding it has become difficult to host events without limiting the number of fans.

    By the end of spring, Japan is scheduled to make a decision on the number of spectators to be allowed at each venue and whether the country will accept fans from overseas.

    Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, said Friday it is "not possible" to welcome fans from overseas if hospitals continue to struggle with a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 patients.

    "The number of delegations is huge in itself. I would have to say it is not possible for the medical system to accept (visitors from overseas) when it has been under constant strain," he said a day ahead of marking six months until the Olympics begin.

    Holding the Tokyo Games without spectators would deal a blow to the organizing committee, which expects to make revenue of 90 billion yen ($867 million) from ticket sales.

    The government is therefore also exploring the possibility of admitting some fans, who have already bought tickets, from Japan if they have been vaccinated, the officials said.

    In an interview with Kyodo News on Thursday, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach hinted at the possibility of reducing the number of spectators, saying the IOC has to be "flexible" to protect the lives of the people involved.

    "You may not like it but sacrifices will be needed. This is why I'm saying, safety first, and no taboo in the discussion to ensure safety," Bach said.

    In a parliamentary session on Friday, Suga, who has said holding the games would be "proof that humanity has defeated the virus," voiced his strong resolve again to hold them as scheduled with coming up with appropriate measures against the virus.

    Amid some skepticism as to whether the Olympics and Paralympics will go ahead this summer, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said Friday that pushing them back to 2024 is the most "realistic" choice.

    "I hope (the organizers) will avoid their cancellation," Yoshimura said on a TV program.

    Paris has already been awarded the Olympics in 2024, a year before the western Japan prefecture hosts the World Exposition.

    Bach, however, has ruled out another postponement or cancellation of the games, which the organizers decided last March to delay for a year due to the outbreak of the virus.

    "We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo," he said in the interview, adding there is "no plan B."

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