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Tokyo cancels all Olympic public viewing events due to COVID

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike speaks to reporters in Tokyo on June 19, 2021. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Saturday that all mass public viewings of this summer's Olympics and Paralympics in the Japanese capital will be canceled as part of precautions against the coronavirus.

    After holding talks with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for about an hour, the governor told reporters that some of the six venues planned to be used for the screenings will instead be offered as COVID-19 vaccination sites.

    The announcement was made with just about one month to go until the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, with public concern about a potential spike in coronavirus cases driven by more contagious new variants remaining strong, while Japan's vaccination rate is still low compared with many other developed countries.

    The meeting between Suga and Koike, the first since May 21, came ahead of an online meeting Monday by organizers of the Olympics and Paralympics at which they will decide on a limit on spectators at the games.

    Koike said she has gained support over the cancellation of the public events from the prime minister and agreed with him that the pace of the country's vaccination rollout has to be accelerated.

    The venues of so-called live sites and public viewing venues included Yoyogi, Inokashira and Hibiya parks in the capital, which on Saturday reported 388 new COVID-19 infections.

    Across the country, more than 1,500 new cases were reported, down from more than 7,000 daily at the peak of the fourth wave in early to mid-May, but the pace of decline has slowed in recent days.

    In connection with the online meeting, which will be attended by Koike and other representatives of the organizers, she said, "I exchanged opinions (with Suga) on what would happen if we looked again at the overall picture and also provided information."

    After deciding to end a COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and eight prefectures on Thursday, Suga, speaking at a press conference, expressed his willingness to stage the games with some spectators.

    The Japanese government has said it will allow up to 10,000 people at large events in Japan, as long as they do not exceed 50 percent of venue capacity, in areas that are not under a state of emergency or a quasi-state of emergency.

    Japanese government and Olympic officials are considering applying the policy also to the Olympics, due to begin July 23, and the Paralympics.

    Tokyo and six of the prefectures will shift to a quasi-state of emergency on Monday and will remain under it until July 11, under which serving alcohol at restaurants and bars, currently banned, will be conditionally allowed until 7 p.m.

    The nationwide Olympic torch relay is scheduled to approach Tokyo on July 9, but the metropolitan government is considering canceling the event on public roads while the capital is under that quasi-state of emergency, according to officials.

    Since the relay started in late March, it has been scaled down in a number of areas due to the resurgence of infections, as the organizers have been struggling to turn public opinion in favor of opening the Olympics.

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