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The Tokyo Olympics' last day up close: An ending marked by distant cheers, full hospitals

A large crowd is seen gathered trying to get a taste of the Olympic closing ceremony's atmosphere from outside the National Stadium in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Aug. 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

Coronavirus infections continued spreading throughout Japan over the Tokyo Olympics' 17 days. On their last -- August 8 -- Mainichi Shimbun reporters traveled to event venues and a Tokyo hospital to observe scenes on the ground.

    -- 7 a.m., Sapporo: The starting shot is fired at Odori Park in the center of Japan's northernmost prefecture Hokkaido's capital for the last athletics event: the men's marathon. Crowds lining the course grow as the race develops.

    To no avail, one staff member repeatedly calls out: "Please refrain from watching the race." Areas around the park seem uncontrolled, as spectators' rows double then triple. Live marathon coverage in Japanese and English can be heard in the vicinity, in total contradiction of calls not to gather.

    Many came from outside Hokkaido. A 19-year-old university student from the western city of Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, seemed excited and said: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I saw the runners close up. It was great."

    A volunteer staffer calling for restraint was dismayed by the organizing committee's handling of the event. "Fans should have been kept further from the course. The committee made a mistake," she said.

    -- Shortly after 1 p.m., Katsushika Ward, Tokyo: At Heisei Tateishi Hospital, Taketomo Omomo's cell phone vibrates endlessly from incoming calls. The 57-year-old emergency department director answers one, saying: "Understood, we'll accept the patient."

    The hospital has set up a 20-bed coronavirus patient "waiting station" in a conference room where people wait for hospital treatment vacancies. The "station" was first used on July 23, the Games' opening day. With the surge in new cases, on many days, it closes in on its capacity.

    Omomo's hospital has also upped treatment beds to 45, and they are always full. Three patients are in a serious condition and need to be transferred, but an appropriate hospital cannot be found. One of the patients arrived on an emergency call and after a 12-hour drive. They had been turned down by 140 hospitals before their arrival.

    Omomo has been cooperating with the organizing committee, and was a medical training session instructor. Though he asked to be exempt from giving medical help at venues, a substitute could not be found. On the condition that his time be restricted to the morning, he was stationed at a venue's medical first-aid station once. While there, he instructed colleagues at his hospital via online video conferencing.

    He sees no sign of cases decreasing, and senses that the situation is very critical. "So many sick people aren't being treated at hospitals. We're entering a stage where lives that could have been saved will be lost," he said.

    Man-made island "Odaiba" in Tokyo Bay. A skateboarding class was canceled due to rain at outdoor park "Raizin Sky Garden by H.L.N.A." Membership among kids, mostly in elementary and junior high school, is up more than twofold after five Japanese skaters became medalists, with classes fully reserved since. Instructor and staff member Ryuhei Kobayashi, 26, said of the sport's future: "The Paris Olympics are in three years. I want to keep showing how fun this sport is to people taking it up because of the Tokyo Games."

    -- 3:30 p.m., Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo: The rain stops at the National Stadium, the venue for the evening's closing ceremony. Fences are up on nearby sidewalks. Police officers announce to onlookers: "This area is restricted. Only affiliated persons may enter." No one can get more than 300 meters near the open space where the Olympic rings, now a popular photo spot, stand. A 48-year-old company employee visiting with family from the city of Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, could not hide his disappointment. "We wanted to see the stadium up close."

    -- 3:40 p.m., Koto Ward, Tokyo: A Tokyo Olympics organizing committee press conference begins at the main press center. President Seiko Hashimoto reads a six-minute prepared statement. She emphasizes the Games' success: "The athletes performed well. They gave hope to many people." One after another, reporters for both domestic and international media ask about event mismanagement, like the Sapporo crowds. The president is asked once more to evaluate the Games, and answers: "I cannot call it a 100% success. There are issues that we could have managed in a better way."

    (Japanese original by Shota Harumashi, Shohei Oshima, Shotaro Kinoshita and Taisuke Shimabukuro, Tokyo City News Department, Hiroaki Kishikawa, Hokkaido News Department, and Koichi Ogino, Osaka City News Department)

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