Tokyo Olympics organisers are leaning towards banning spectators from night-time events and large-scale venues amid fears about the spread of Covid-19.
Polls show a majority of Japanese oppose holding the Olympics given warnings from health experts that it could unleash another wave of infections.
The Games are scheduled to start on July 23, after a year’s delay due to the pandemic.
The governors of Chiba and Saitama prefectures near Tokyo have already been urging organisers to ban spectators from night-time events in their localities.
Meanwhile Japan’s Prime Minister also said the games could be held behind closed doors.
Yoshihide Suga admitted there was the ‘possibility’ of there being no spectators at the events.
It comes as a top epidemiologist warned the Olympics could be a super spreader event if officials do not handle controlling visitors carefully.
Professor Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the authorities need to be careful in managing the crowds in the stadium.
Olympics organisers are leaning towards banning fans from attending night events at Games
There are fears that spectators at the Olympics could turn it into a ‘super-spreader’ event
The request to ban fans is being discussed and a decision will be made at five-way talks that will include the Tokyo governor, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the head of Tokyo 2020.
The talks will be held on July 8, Kyodo news agency said. The government is also expected to make a call next week on whether to lift a state of ‘quasi-emergency’.
Organisers have pledged to make the Games ‘safe and secure’, arguing other large sporting events have been held safely.
While they have banned overseas spectators, they have so far decided to cap the number of domestic spectators to 10,000 per venue for the Games, or 50 per cent of capacity, despite medical experts saying no spectators would be the ‘least risky’ option.
Brushing aside concerns the Olympics could become a ‘super-spreader’ event, Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics and a member of the IOC, told CNBC on Thursday the Games ‘will go ahead and they should go ahead’.
Japan is moving ahead with staging the Games, despite public opposition and the warnings
But Euro 2020 – which has been blamed this week for a surge in Cocid-19 cases as fans flocked to stadiums, bars and spectator zones across Europe – is likely to further fuel worries in Japan.
The governor of Hokkaido in northern Japan has indicated he would prefer if people did not come to watch the marathon along its routes in the city of Sapporo and has asked organisers to come up with safety protocols.
Top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato, when asked about the remarks, said he would ‘monitor discussions’ between organisers and local authorities.
PM Suga added: ‘There is a possibility of there being no spectators. In any case, we will act with the safety and security of the Japanese people as our top priority.’
Top epidemiologist Prof Hunter warned officials need to be careful in how the handle any crowds.
He told MailOnline: ‘From a public health perspective if large numbers of people are going in and out of Japan because of the Olympics then that will increase the likelihood of spreading the Delta variant to countries that haven’t currently got it.
‘It is a big risk, especially for Japan.’
On if it could turn into a super spreader event, he added: ‘They could, depending on how they manage the situation, how well they control venues and how well they control people moving around.’
Protesters gather at Akarenga Park, Yokohama, Japan, during a protest against the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Wednesday amid news coronavirus restrictions may stay in place
Japan is likely to extend its Covid-19 measures in the greater Tokyo area by two weeks or more after the current July 11 deadline, government sources have said.
Japan is not hesitant about extending curbs in Tokyo, but ‘it is meaningless if it has no impact’, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters.
Japan has not suffered the explosive outbreak seen elsewhere but the potential spread of variants and a slow initial rollout of vaccines have fuelled concerns.
The Tokyo government reported 660 new cases yesterday – the third day it has passed 500.
It means the city is in the government’s stage 4, which is its most serious category for the pandemic.