Japan has decided to bar foreign spectators from this summer's Tokyo Olympics, the Kyodo news agency said on Tuesday, citing government officials. The decision, which hadn't been publicly confirmed by Japanese officials, comes after weeks of mounting pressure from a public worried about visitors who could carry the coronavirus into the country, including some highly-contagious new variants.
There was no immediate word on how many Japanese fans would be permitted to enjoy the Summer Games in person, but Kyodo, which often gets news directly from government officials before it is formally announced, said no spectators would be admitted from abroad.
Japan has enjoyed relative success against the COVID-19 disease since the pandemic began a year ago. The nation has registered fewer than 450,000 confirmed cases and just over 8,000 deaths among its population of more than 126 million.
Given the density of human beings in the megacity of Tokyo alone, where more than 37 million people live, the risk of infectious diseases spreading was always real, but the Japanese have long been comfortable with the wearing of face masks, and that, combined with early recognition of social distancing and other measures, has helped keep the disease largely in check despite a resurgence last autumn.
As COVID-19 flared across much of the Western world, the Japanese voiced overwhelming opposition in January not only to hosting an international sporting event with thousands of visitors from around the world, but to the Tokyo Games being staged at all. About 80% of those polled by two national media outlets said the Olympics should be rescheduled or cancelled altogether.
Already the Games were postponed from the summer of 2020 until this year because of the pandemic, and Tokyo Olympics bosses in Japan and the International Olympic Committee have been steadfast in their determination to pull the event off — while always cautioning that some constraints would likely have to be made.
Tuesday's news of the ban on foreign spectators came about a month after Tokyo Olympics officials released a 33-page "playbook" of rules for behavior at the Games in a bid to show they've prepared adequately to host a safe event on such a large scale amid a global health crisis.
The document offered guidelines for behavior for certain groups of people who are going to attend the Olympics, including athletes and their entourages, but it made no mention of foreign fans, specifically.
Spectators who do get in won't be allowed to cheer or sing out loud under the rules, but only clap — the concern being that water droplets from fans' mouths could carry the virus.
There has been no discussion yet of any requirement for either Olympics participants or fans to get a coronavirus vaccine before they show up in Tokyo. Japan's national vaccination program was slow to get rolling, with the first doses only being administered in mid-February.
The heated debate over whether it's even safe to hold the Olympics has been only one of the major hurdles for the Tokyo Games' organizers. Last month, a woman was picked as the new president of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, to replace the 83-year-old former Japanese Prime Minister who was forced to resign from the job amid a scandal over his sexist remarks.