Tokyo Olympics: State of emergency looms in bid to combat new COVID wave during Games

Japan seems likely to declare a state of emergency during the Tokyo Olympics to try to contain a new wave of coronavirus infections, as organisers consider banning all spectators.

For weeks, medical experts have insisted that having no spectators at the Games would be the least risky option, amid widespread public concern that the influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.

Organisers have already banned overseas spectators and have, for now, set a cap on domestic viewers at 50 percent of capacity - up to 10,000 people. Talks to finalise the restrictions on the spectators are expected this week.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who arrives in Tokyo on Thursday to oversee the last leg of the preparations, would preside over the talks.

Japan Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who heads the government's coronavirus response, says a state of emergency in Tokyo may begin on July 12 and run through August 22.

The Olympic Games are scheduled to run from July 23-August 8.


The decision comes after new daily infections in Tokyo, currently under slightly less strict "quasi emergency" curbs, rose to 920, the highest level since mid-May.

Under the heightened restrictions, restaurants would be asked to stop serving alcohol, Nishimura says.

The move is expected to be made official later on Thursday and followed by a news conference by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Areas neighbouring Tokyo, where some Olympic events are also slated to take place, such as Chiba and Kanagawa, would remain under "quasi emergency" through August 22.

Underscoring the last-minute nature of the preparations, organisers have told Olympic sponsors they anticipate two scenarios when Tokyo goes under the state of emergency - having no spectators or setting a 5000-spectator cap, says a source familiar with the matter.

In the no-spectator scenario, all sports, and opening and closing ceremonies would likely take place without fans, including tickets allocated to the sponsors, organisers have told companies in online meetings.

If the number of spectators is capped at 5000 per venue, tickets allocated to Olympic sponsors would be halved and organisers also expect any session after 9pm would be staged without spectators, the source says.

The organising committee did not immediately respond to a request for 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 had forced the change of tack, sources say.

Japan will hold a parliamentary election later this year and the Government's insistence that the Games - postponed last year, as the virus spread around the world - should go ahead this year could cost it at the ballot box.