The ban will be formally decided during talks on Thursday, the newspaper said, citing people involved in the Games, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was essential to prevent Tokyo, where the highly infectious Delta COVID-19 variant was spreading, from becoming the source of another wave of infections.
If confirmed, the ban would all but rob the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8, of their last hope for pomp and public spectacle.
Once seen as a chance for Japan to stand large on the global stage after a devastating earthquake a decade ago, the showpiece event was delayed by the pandemic last year and has been hit by massive budget overruns.
Organisers said they would have a news conference at 10:45 p.m. (1345 GMT) following their discussions. Organisers would “have to consider an option of no spectators,” Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa said at the start of the talks.
Medical experts have said for weeks that having no spectators would be the least risky option, amid widespread public fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.
Infections were on the rise in Tokyo, due in part to the Delta variant, Suga told a news conference, warning that that could expand to the rest of the country.
“We absolutely must avoid Tokyo being the starting point again of another spread of the infection,” he said, adding that “good progress” was being made in vaccinations.
New daily cases in Tokyo could increase to 1,000 in July and 2,000 in August, raising the risk of hospitals in the capital region running out of beds, according to recent projections from Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor working with the government’s coronavirus experts group.
The government’s drive to hold the Olympics even as the pandemic has worsened has alienated swathes of the public and sparked concern among sponsors about a consumer backlash.
Sponsors are cancelling or scaling back booths and events tied to the Games, frustrated by the “very last-minute” decisions by organisers, sources told Reuters.
Thursday’s talks, scheduled for 8 pm (1100 GMT) will be chaired by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who arrived in Tokyo on Thursday. Other participants include the Tokyo and national governments and Paralympic officials.
Bach told reporters that strict measures were in place and those measures were successful.
Slow vaccine rollout
Japan has not suffered the kind of explosive COVID-19 outbreaks seen in many other countries but has had more than 810,000 cases and 14,900 deaths.
A slow vaccine rollout has meant only a quarter of the population has had at least one shot.
The new state of emergency in Tokyo, under which restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, will begin on Monday and run through to Aug 22. It was announced as the capital reported 896 new daily infections on Thursday, near highs last seen in mid-May.
Underscoring the last-minute nature of Olympic preparations, organisers presented various spectator scenarios to sponsors as late as Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Sponsors were told that in the case of no spectators, all sports and opening and closing ceremonies would likely be held without fans, meaning tickets allocated to sponsors could not be used.
The absence of crowds will likely further strain the Games’ budget, which has already blown out to an estimated $15.4 billion, with ticket revenues of about $815 million expected to dwindle to close to zero.
The organising committee did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Until this week, officials have insisted they could organise the Games safely with some spectators, but a ruling party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some allies of Suga attributed to public anger over the Olympics, had forced the change of tack, sources said.
Japan will hold a parliamentary election this year and the government’s insistence that the Games should go ahead this year could cost it at the ballot box, they said.
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