Japan yesterday extended its state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions and announced new measures covering seven more prefectures to counter a spike in Covid-19 infections that is threatening the medical system. The current state of emergency, the fifth of the pandemic so far, was due to expire on August 31 but will now last until September 12. Tokyo announced 4,377 new coronavirus cases yesterday, after a record 5,773 on Friday. “The Delta variant raging across the world is causing unprecedented cases in our country,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. “Serious cases are increasing rapidly and severely burdening the medical system, particularly in the capital region.” The emergency will now cover nearly 60% of Japan’s population with the prefectures of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka included. Less strict “quasi-emergency” measures will be applied to a further 10 prefectures. Restaurants are being asked to close early and stop serving alcohol in exchange for a subsidy. Suga announced a fresh subsidy of 300bn yen ($2.7bn) to help businesses cope with the fall-out. Suga said the government would also request occupancy limits at department stores and ask people to reduce by half the times they go to crowded areas. Speaking at a news conference explaining the steps, the government’s top health advisor, Shigeru Omi, said Japan needed to come up with steps to “prod individuals to avoid taking action that could potentially spread infections”. He said that could be done under the current laws, which are mostly based on voluntary co-operation, but added that there’s also room for a nationwide debate on how to do this under a new legal framework. He did not go into details. Speaking beside Omi, Suga said the government would consider crafting legislation to swiftly prepare enough hospital beds for critically ill Covid-19 patients, and speed up vaccinations. Suga dismissed the idea of imposing a blanket, nationwide state of emergency, saying that would pose “excessive restrictions for some prefectures” that were succeeding in containing new infections. Japanese shares fell for a fourth day yesterday as concerns about the Delta variant overshadowed optimism about upbeat earnings. Japan’s case fatality rate stands at about 1.3%, compared with 1.7% in the US and 2.1% in Britain.
Nearly 2mn people were urged to seek shelter as torrential rain triggered floods and landslides in western Japan yesterday, leaving at least one dead and three missing. Authorities in seven regions, mainly in the northern part of Kyushu island, issued their highest evacuation alert as the weather agency reported unprecedented levels of rain in the area. Under the non-compulsory alert, more than 1.8mn residents have been asked to leave their homes immediately, according to public broadcaster NHK. TV footage showed rescuers towing residents through submerged streets on a lifeboat in the town of Kurume in Fukuoka, while a man who was rescued in neighbouring Saga prefecture said he had never seen rain like it. “This situation is different,” he told NHK. “I’ve had a similar experience before, but (this time) I was scared.” The government said 14 rivers had burst their banks and 14 landslides had occurred, mainly in western Japan. A 59-year-old woman died and two of her family members were missing after a landslide destroyed two houses in Unzen, Nagasaki, a local official said. “More than 150 troops, police and firefighters were dispatched to the site for rescue operations,” Takumi Kumasaki told AFP. “They are carefully searching for the missing residents, while watching out for further mudslides as the heavy rain continues.” A 76-year-old man was also missing in Kumamoto after he tried to secure his fishing boat at a surging river, a regional official told AFP. Downpours are forecast for several more days over a large swathe of the country. Scientists say climate change is intensifying the risk of heavy rain in Japan and elsewhere, because a warmer atmosphere holds more water. “Unprecedented levels of heavy rain have been observed,” Yushi Adachi, a meteorological agency official, told reporters in Tokyo. “It’s highly likely that some kind of disaster has already occurred,” Adachi said. “The maximum alert is needed even in areas where risks of landslides and flooding are usually not so high.” Strong rain last month caused a devastating landslide in the central resort town of Atami that killed 23 people, with four still missing. And in 2018, floods and landslides killed more than 200 people in western Japan during the country’s annual rainy season. A flooded road in Takeo, Saga prefecture.
The Japanese city of Nagasaki on Monday commemorated the 76th anniversary of its destruction by a US atomic bomb, with the mayor calling for the global community to build on a new nuclear ban treaty. Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno that killed 74,000 people, three days after the nuclear bomb that hit Hiroshima. The twin attacks rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons. Survivors and a handful of foreign dignitaries offered a silent prayer at 11:02 am (0202 GMT), the exact time the second -- and last -- nuclear weapon used in wartime was dropped. For a second year, the number of people attending was much smaller due to coronavirus restrictions. The ceremony is the first since an international treaty banning nuclear weapons came into force last year. "World leaders must commit to nuclear arms reductions and build trust through dialogue, and civil society must push them in this direction," Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue said. The treaty has not been signed by countries with nuclear arsenals, but activists believe it will have a gradual deterrent effect. Japan has not signed it either, saying the accord carries no weight without buy-in from nuclear-armed states. The country is also in a delicate position as it is under the US nuclear umbrella, with US forces responsible for its defence. "As the only country that has suffered atomic bombings during the war, it is our unchanging mission to steadily advance the efforts of the international community, step by step, towards realisation of a world free of nuclear weapons," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at the ceremony. On Friday, Japan marked 76 years since the US dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing around 140,000 people. Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima in 2016, but Washington has never acceded to demands for an apology for the bombings. International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach travelled to Hiroshima in July, before the start of the Tokyo Games, to mark the start of an Olympic truce -- a tradition that calls for a halt to global conflict to allow the safe passage of athletes. But city officials were disappointed after the IOC refused a request to stage a minute of silence at the Games to mark Friday's anniversary.
Japan on Friday marked 76 years since the world's first atomic bomb attack, with low-key ceremonies and disappointment over a refusal by Olympics organisers to hold a minute's silence. Survivors, relatives and a handful of foreign dignitaries attended this year's main event in Hiroshima to pray for those killed or wounded in the bombing and call for world peace. Virus concerns meant the general public were once again kept away, with the ceremony instead broadcast online. Participants, many dressed in black and wearing face masks, offered a silent prayer at 8:15 am (2315 GMT Thursday), when the first nuclear weapon used in wartime was dropped. An estimated 140,000 people were killed in the bombing of Hiroshima, which was followed three days later by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. On Friday, Hiroshima's mayor called for leaders to visit the cities, and warned "experience has taught humanity that threatening others for self-defence benefits no one". Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also delivered a speech in the city, but was later forced to apologise for skipping part of the text -- reportedly on Japan's support of international nuclear disarmament -- apparently by accident. International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach made a trip to Hiroshima before the Games began, to mark the start of an Olympic truce that urges a halt to fighting worldwide to allow the safe passage of athletes. But organisers stopped short of granting a request from bomb survivors and the city for a minute of silent prayer on Friday morning. In a letter, Bach said the Olympic closing ceremony would include time to honour victims of tragedy throughout history. "His letter didn't say anything about our request," Tomohiro Higaki from Hiroshima's peace promotion division told AFP. "It is disappointing, even though we appreciate that Bach visited Hiroshima to learn the reality of bomb victims," he said. Bach's controversial visit saw more than 70,000 people signing a petition opposing the trip and accusing him of seeking to "promote the Olympics" despite opposition to the Games. Yoko Sado, 43, strolling through the peace memorial park with her seven-year-old son, said the lack of visitors because of the pandemic had robbed Hiroshima of a chance to spread a message of peace. "I'm a bit disappointed," she told AFP. "It would have been a great opportunity." This year's ceremony is the first since an international treaty banning nuclear weapons entered into force last year when a 50th country ratified the text. The treaty has not been signed by nuclear-armed states, but activists believe it will have a gradual deterrent effect. Japan has also declined to sign it, saying the accord will carry no weight without buy-in from nuclear-armed states. But the country is also in a delicate position as it is under the US nuclear umbrella, with US forces responsible for its defence.
Belarusian Olympic athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya left Japan on a Vienna-bound flight Wednesday and was expected to head for Poland, where she has been offered a humanitarian visa. The 24-year-old sprinter had been expected to take a direct flight to Warsaw but switched at the last minute, an airport official told reporters. She boarded the flight at Narita airport outside Tokyo after travelling from the Polish embassy where she had spent the past two nights following claims her team tried to force her to return home after she criticised her coaches. Tsimanouskaya declined to speak to the media at the airport, and her flight took off shortly after 11 am local time (0200 GMT). The sprinter sought protection from Tokyo 2020 officials on Sunday, claiming she was being forced to return to Belarus, which has been wracked by political upheaval and a crackdown on dissent after disputed elections that returned strongman Alexander Lukashenko to power last year. Tsimanouskaya was one of more than 2,000 Belarusian sports figures who signed an open letter calling for new elections and for political prisoners to be freed. Her husband has now fled to Ukraine and the pair are expected to meet up in Poland, which is a staunch critic of Lukashenko's regime and has become home to a growing number of dissidents. Tsimanouskaya arrived in Poland's embassy on Monday evening following a night spent in an airport hotel. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Tuesday he had spoken to the "courageous" Tsimanouskaya, who is "currently well taken care of and safe". "I assured her that she can count on the support and solidarity of Poland. In the coming days, she will fly to Warsaw, where she will be able to thrive without obstacles and, if she so chooses, will receive further assistance," he wrote on Facebook. The International Olympic Committee has said it will investigate Belarus's Olympic team over the incident, but activists have called for the country's Olympic committee to be suspended and its athletes to compete as neutrals. Spokesman Mark Adams said Wednesday that the IOC had received a report from Belarus's Olympic committee, which was "being evaluated." And he said the IOC has opened a disciplinary commission "to establish facts in this case". NGO Global Athlete said Tsimanouskaya's "alleged kidnapping... is yet another example of the alarming athlete abuse occurring in Belarus". Lukashenko and his son Viktor have been banned from Olympic events over the targeting of athletes for their political views. Shortly before the Tokyo Games, Lukashenko warned sports officials and athletes that he expected results in Japan. "Think about it before going," he said. "If you come back with nothing, it's better for you not to come back at all." The alleged attempt to return Tsimanouskaya to Belarus has prompted condemnation, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accusing Lukashenko's government of "another act of transnational repression". Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, sparked international outrage in May by dispatching a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania to arrest a dissident onboard. Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski seemed to reference that incident when he declined to confirm whether Tsimanouskaya would fly out on Wednesday as had been rumoured, citing safety. The Olympic saga came as police in Ukraine said a missing Belarusian activist, whose NGO helps his compatriots flee the country, had been found hanged in a park in Kiev. Police said they had opened a murder probe and would pursue all leads including "murder disguised as suicide", while activists accused authorities of "an operation... to liquidate a Belarusian who presented a true danger to the regime". The United Nations has called on Ukrainian authorities to conduct a "thorough, impartial and effective investigation" into the death.
Kai Koyama was standing outside Tokyo's Olympic Stadium as fireworks burst overhead during the opening ceremony but unlike many of those around him he wasn't cheering, but protesting. For months, polls showed strong opposition to the Games in Japan, which only grew as virus cases surged and the country's vaccine programme got off to a sluggish start. But since the opening ceremony, sentiment seems to have softened. More than half of the city's residents watched the opening extravaganza on TV and long lines have formed by the Olympic Stadium as people wait to have their photo taken with the Olympic rings. Japanese athletes have won a record number of gold medals and shops selling Games merchandise have reported a surge in sales. None of that sways Koyama and other long-time opponents of the Games, who continue to stage demonstrations, even if they tend to draw just a few dozen people. "Lives are more important than medals!" chanted demonstrators outside Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's office in Tokyo on one recent evening. Koyama was among them, urging Suga to cancel the Olympics and focus on Japan's latest surge in coronavirus cases, which has put Tokyo and other regions in a state of emergency. "I'm so angry," the painter, in his 40s, told AFP. "We are in an emergency situation... people are dying every day, but the Olympic Games are still going on." Tokyo 2020 is being held under strict anti-virus rules, with spectators banned from most competition venues. But Koyama argues that holding the event sends the wrong message and encourages people to flout restrictions and risk infection. He was outside the Olympic Stadium on July 23 when the shouts of protesters using loudspeakers could be heard in the nearly empty venue. "I felt powerless and angry when I saw the fireworks at the National Stadium that told us the Games had started, despite opposition from 80 percent of the Japanese public." Koyama has channelled his frustration into an art exhibition called "Declaration for the end of the Olympic Games", bringing together works by artists who oppose the event. Exhibits include the clay sculpture "Ruins", in which Olympic rings, an olive-leaf wreath and a hand are covered by pale sand. "There are athletes who perform with great skill, and people who enjoy watching, and I think that's a wonderful thing. But I feel people take the threat of the coronavirus too lightly," artist Sachiko Kawamura told AFP. Kawamura argues "the way money is spent (on the Games) is wrong". The government should be concentrating on dealing with the virus rather than spending on the Olympics, she said. While the virus has driven some misgivings about the Games, others in Japan opposed Tokyo's host bid from the early days, including 55-year-old painter Takatoshi Sakuragawa. He struggled to understand why the country was competing for the competition in the International Olympic Committee vote in 2013 when it was still reeling from a 2011 tsunami that left more than 18,000 people dead or missing and triggered a nuclear disaster. "I wondered why they were pouring energy into something like the Olympics even after our worst-ever disaster," Sakuragawa told AFP. The Tokyo bid committee said the Olympics would help rebuild the disaster-hit area through the "power of sports". But a poll in March among residents of regions hardest hit by the 2011 disaster found 61 percent disagreed that the Tokyo Games were helping reconstruction, against 24 percent who agreed. Only a handful of Olympic events are happening in the affected area, many without spectators. Koyama said he was shocked that Olympic organisers were willing to ignore public opposition, calling them "anti-democratic and dictatorial". And Sakuragawa said he was trying to avoid Games coverage even though he enjoys watching sport. "But whichever TV channel I turn on has them, so I'm kind of forced to watch."
A Belarusian athlete walked into a Polish embassy on Monday, a day after refusing to board a flight at a Tokyo airport that she said she was taken to against her wishes by her team. Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, would seek asylum in Poland, said a member of the local Belarus community who was in touch with her. Polish consular officials did not respond to requests for confirmation or comment. Earlier, Polish foreign ministry official Marcin Przydacz wrote on Twitter that Tsimanouskaya has been "offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses." The sprinter pulled up in front of the embassy in an unmarked silver van about 5 p.m. local time (0800 GMT). She stepped out with her official team luggage, and then greeted two officials before entering the premises. Two women, one carrying the red and white flag considered the symbol of opposition in Belarus, came to the gates to support her. In a brewing diplomatic incident on the sidelines of the Olympics, Tsimanouskaya's refusal to board the plane, first reported by Reuters, has thrown a harsh spotlight on discord in Belarus, a former Soviet state that is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko. The sprinter, who was due to compete in the women's 200 metre heats on Monday, had her Games cut short when she said she was taken to the airport to board a Turkish Airlines flight. She told a Reuters reporter via Telegram that the Belarusian head coach had turned up at her room on Sunday at the athletes village and told her she had to leave. "The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me," she wrote in the message. "At 5 (pm) they came my room and told me to pack and they took me to the airport." But she refused to board the flight, telling Reuters: "I will not return to Belarus." She then sought the protection of Japanese police at the airport. The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors' advice about her "emotional, psychological state". Belarus athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich told state television he "could see there was something wrong with her... She either secluded herself or didn't want to talk." Meanwhile, the Czech Republic offered asylum on Monday to Timanovskaya. Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said his country was ready to welcome the athlete. "The Japanese authorities have just confirmed to us that the Belarusian athlete Kryscina Tsimanouskaya has received our offer of asylum," he said on Twitter, using a different spelling of her name. "If she decides to accept it, we will help her as much as possible. The Olympics are not about politics, the methods of the (President Alexander) Lukashenko regime are absolutely shameful," he said. Japanese and International Olympic Committee officials said the athlete was safe and was communicating with authorities. "She assured us and has assured us that she feels safe and secure. She spent the night at an airport hotel in a safe and secure environment," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters in Tokyo. He added that the IOC would be "talking again to her this morning, to understand... what she wants to pursue, and we will give her support in that decision". UNHCR officials were involved in the case, he added. Japan's foreign and justice ministry as well as local police declined to comment. Timanovskaya alleged overnight that her team was attempting to send her home after she criticised the Belarusian athletics federation for entering her into a relay race in Tokyo without giving her notice. "It turns out our great bosses as always decided everything for us," she said in an Instagram story video that is no longer available. In a later Instagram post she added that she would not have "reacted so harshly if I had been told in advance, explained the whole situation and asked if I was able to run 400 metres". "But they decided to do everything behind my back," she added. And in a video the athlete appealed to the IOC to intervene in her case, warning: "I am under pressure and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent." Belarusian state television meanwhile has criticised Timanovskaya, with the channel's presenter saying she "turned her time in Tokyo into a grandiose scandal." Adams said the IOC had demanded a full written account of the incident from Belarus's Olympic committee, adding that the IOC has taken a series of actions against the committee in recent months. Belarusian President Lukashenko's disputed re-election to a sixth term last August led to the most serious political crisis in the country's modern history, with protesters taking to the streets and authorities cracking down on the opposition. In December, the IOC banned Lukashenko and his eldest son Viktor from Olympic events over the Belarus Olympic committee's targeting of athletes for their political views. Then in March, the IOC refused to recognise Viktor Lukashenko's leadership of the Belarus NOC when he took over from his father, who had held the role since 1967. Viktor Lukashenko was banned from attending the Olympics, along with a member of the country's Olympic Committee executive board and several government officials. A number of Belarusian athletes have supported Lukashenko's critics and demanded an end to the crackdown. The turmoil has also led to Belarus being stripped of the hosting rights for this year's ice hockey world championship. In response to a number of questions by journalists about what the IOC would do to ensure other athletes in the village were protected, the IOC spokesperson said they were still collecting details about what exactly occurred.
The Olympics host city Tokyo, as well as Thailand and Malaysia, announced record Covid-19 infections yesterday, mostly driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant of the disease. The surge in Delta variant cases is rattling parts of Asia previously relatively successful in containing Covid-19, such as Vietnam, which will from Monday impose strict curbs on movement in several cities and provinces. Tokyo’s metropolitan government announced a record number of 4,058 infections in the past 24 hours. Olympics organisers reported 21 new Covid-19 cases related to the Games, bringing the total to 241 since July 1. A day earlier Japan extended its state of emergency for Tokyo to the end of August and expanded it to three prefectures near the capital and to the western prefecture of Osaka. Olympics organisers said yesterday they had revoked accreditation of a Games-related person or people for leaving the athletes’ village for sightseeing, a violation of measures imposed to hold the Olympics safely amid the pandemic. The organisers did not disclose how many people were involved, if the person or people were athletes, or when the violation took place. Malaysia, one of the hotspots of the disease, reported 17,786 coronavirus cases yesterday, a record high. More than 100 people gathered in the centre of Kuala Lumpur expressing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the pandemic and calling on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to quit. Protesters carried black flags and held up placards that read “Kerajaan Gagal” (failed government) - a hashtag popular on social media for months. Thailand also reported a daily record high of 18,912 new coronavirus infections, bringing its total cases to 597,287. The country also reported 178 new deaths, also a daily record. The government said the Delta variant accounted for more than 60% of the cases in the country and 80% of the cases in Bangkok. The variant is not necessarily more lethal than other variants, but much more transmissible, said Supakit Sirilak, the director-general of Thailand’s Department of Medical Sciences. At Thammasat University Hospital near the capital Bangkok, a morgue overwhelmed by Covid-19 deaths has begun storing bodies in refrigerated containers, resorting to a measure it last took in a 2004 tsunami, a hospital director said. Vietnam, grappling with its worst Covid-19 outbreak, announced that from Monday it will impose strict curbs on movement in its business hub Ho Chi Minh City and another 18 cities and provinces throughout its south for another two weeks. Covid-19 infections have increased by 80% over the past four weeks in most regions of the world, WHO Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday. “Hard-won gains are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed,” Tedros told a news conference. The Delta variant, first detected in India, is as contagious as chickenpox and far more contagious than the common cold or flu, the US Centers for Disease Control said in an internal document reported this week.
Governors of three prefectures near Olympics host Tokyo will ask the government to declare states of emergency for their regions, a cabinet minister said on Wednesday, after Covid-19 infections spiked to a record high in the Japanese capital. Tokyo recorded 2,848 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest since the pandemic began, and media reported authorities had asked hospitals to prepare more beds for patients amid a surge driven by the Delta variant. The sharp rise in infections may dampen enthusiasm for the Games - taking place under unprecedented conditions, including a ban on spectators in most venues - despite a rush of medals for Japanese athletes. The surge may also spell trouble for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose support ratings are at their lowest since he took office last September, ahead of a general election this year. Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is leading Japan's Covid-19 response, told a parliamentary panel the prefectures would ask the government to declare the emergency as early as Thursday. Daily Covid-19 cases were expected to rise further in coming days, as testing may have been delayed during holidays last week, he added. "I think we have entered a mode of sharp rises in cases, which I had feared the most," Yuji Kuroiwa, governor of Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo, told reporters. Kanagawa and nearby Chiba and Saitama prefectures are seeing cases jump. Tokyo is under its fourth state of emergency, which that will last through the Olympics, while the other three regions are implementing looser "quasi-emergency" steps. Tokyo Olympics organisers on Wednesday reported 16 new Games-related Covid-19 cases, for a total of 169 since July 1. Olympic athletes, staff and media must follow strict rules to prevent the virus's spread, including frequent testing. "As a city resident myself and as an organiser, my heart hurts that case numbers are rising (in Tokyo)," Tokyo 2020 spokesperson Masa Takaya told a news conference. He repeated that strict measures were in place inside the "Olympic bubble”. Many Japanese have worried about a spread of infections from Olympics participants. Suga on Tuesday urged people to stay home as much as possible and watch the Olympics on television. He said cancelling the Games was not an option. Japan has avoided the devastating outbreaks suffered by other nations such as India, Indonesia and the United States, but the fifth wave of the pandemic is piling pressure on Tokyo's hospitals. "The risk of infection for individuals is the highest ever. It is affecting even ordinary medical care and ... is a severe situation," Koji Wada, a professor at Tokyo's International University of Health and Welfare and an advisor to the government on Covid-19 response, told NHK public television. Unlike stricter steps in many countries, Tokyo's current emergency measures focus mainly on asking restaurants that serve alcohol to close and others to shut down by 8 p.m. Many Japanese have grown weary of the largely voluntary restrictions and some experts say the government decision to go ahead with the Olympics sent a confusing message about the need to stay home, posing a greater risk than direct contagion from Olympic participants.
Wind and rain buffeted the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday, causing delays to competition and event rescheduling, but stopping short of battering the host city as initially feared. While organisers remained on alert to monitor impact from the tropical storm off Japan's east coast, those competitors unaffected by the weather got Day Four of competition off to a flying start. Flora Duffy achieved instant national hero status when she won Bermuda’s first Olympic gold medal with victory in the women's triathlon. The 33-year-old hailed it "an incredible moment" and as Bermuda became the least populous nation to win a Summer Olympics gold its Premier David Burt sent his congratulations over Twitter, saying: "You've worked so hard and you've made an entire island proud!" In the pool, Russian Evgeny Rylov broke a U.S. stranglehold on the men's 100m backstroke, becoming the first non-American to win the event at an Olympics since 1992. Tom Dean powered to gold in the men's 200m freestyle, heading a British one-two with Duncan Scott taking silver. MAN AGAINST OCEAN Australian Kaylee McKeown took the women's 100 metres backstroke gold, and Lydia Jacoby won the women's 100m breaststroke for the United States. At the archery venue, early rounds of the individual events were delayed by some two and a half hours, and were now due to start at noon local time. The conditions meant there was no training on the practice field at Tokyo's Yumenoshima Park Archery Field, with staff in rain coats placing non-slip mats around the facility. If the archers were left frustrated, though, the surfers were embracing the wet and windy conditions. "Today is one of those days when it's man against ocean, more so than competing against your competitor, but that's what makes it fun," Japanese surfer Kanoa Igarashi told reporters after scoring a spectacular early barrel wave en route to a quarter-final victory over American Kolohe Andino. "It's great that we have waves. It's about who wants it more." Japan's hot, wet and unstable summer weather patterns have been a persistent concern for the Games, which opened on Friday, compounding difficulties for an Olympics being held under a Covid-19 state of emergency. Tokyo was forecast to receive up 31.5 mm (1.2 inches) of rain over 24 hours from tropical storm Nepartak, now forecast to make landfall in the north early Wednesday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. It was headed toward Sendai, 370 km (230 miles) up the coast from Tokyo, according to the Tropical Storm Risk monitoring site. Although Tokyo was spared a predicted overnight deluge, Nepartak remained a tropical storm, able to pack winds up to 118 kph (73 mph), as it meandered off Japan's east coast, rather than weakening to a tropical depression while ploughing northwest, as earlier forecast. Athletes could, however, welcome a slight respite from the extreme heat that had earlier caused an Olympic archer to collapse. Tuesday's forecast high temperature was 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit), below recent highs of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
A Frenchman on hunger strike in Tokyo seeking access to his children said an appeal from President Emmanuel Macron to Japan’s leader had “changed nothing”, as his protest entered its third week. Vincent Fichot, 39, says his two children were abducted by their Japanese mother, and he has been on hunger strike since July 10 in a bid to be reunited with his family. For two weeks, the former finance worker — who has lived in Japan for 15 years — has sat night and day outside a train station near the Olympic Stadium, where the opening ceremony for the virus-postponed Tokyo Games was held on Friday. Macron, who attended the ceremony with Paris set to host the next Olympics in 2024, held talks on Saturday with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. During their meeting, Macron brought up Fichot’s “extremely tragic situation”, according to the French president’s office, which called the issue a “priority”. Joint custody of children in cases of divorce or separation does not exist legally in Japan, where parental abductions are common and often tolerated by local authorities. Fichot’s wife accused him in court of domestic violence but later retracted the claim, he said. His wife’s lawyer refused to comment, but denounced “biased” media reports. “While it’s good that Suga and Macron at least discussed my case... it has changed nothing about the situation my children are in, so I will continue,” the Frenchman said yesterday. After the leaders met, Macron tweeted about the two countries’ “exceptional” relationship — drawing ire from Fichot, whose health is beginning to deteriorate. “France doesn’t even know if my children are alive,” he said of his six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, who he has not seen since August 2018.
Japan's global superstar Naomi Osaka Friday lit the Olympic cauldron to mark the start of Tokyo 2020, in an opening ceremony shorn of glitz and overshadowed by a pandemic but defined by hope, tradition and gestures of diversity. Postponed by a year due to the coronavirus, the Games are being held without spectators in a city under a Covid-induced state of emergency, as many other parts of the globe also still struggle with a resurgence of cases. Athletes, the vast majority wearing masks, paraded through an eerily silent National Stadium where flagbearers for the first time were both men and women. In its journey through the stadium, the torch was passed from Olympic champions to baseball legends — one born in Taiwan — a doctor and a nurse, a Paralympian, and children from parts of Japan hit badly by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. It was finally handed to Osaka, the 23-year-old four-time tennis grand slam champion whose background as the daughter of a Haitian man and Japanese woman reflects the changes and slowly growing diversity coming to a once ethnically homogeneous country. "The lesson we learned is we need more solidarity — more solidarity among societies, and solidarity within societies," said Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee. But the shift towards greater inclusiveness has not come without stumbles. Tokyo 2020 has been hit by a string of scandals, including the exit of senior officials over derogatory comments. Normally a star-studded display teeming with celebrities, the ceremony was low-key, with fewer than 1,000 people in attendance, strict social distancing rules and signs calling on spectators to "be quiet around the venue." Opening with videos showing empty streets around the world and an athlete training alone in darkness, it also included drones hovering over Tokyo's National Stadium in the shape of the Olympic logo morphing into planet earth and a global performance via videolink of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Imagine". "With the world in a tough situation because of the coronavirus pandemic, I would like to pay my respect and express my gratitude to medical workers and all those who are working hard every day to overcome the difficulties," said local organising committee President Seiko Hashimoto. The ceremony climaxed with a fusion of traditional kabuki theatre — with its elaborate makeup and costumes — and a jazz piano improvisation, on a stage topped with the cauldron for the Olympic flame. At the parade, most countries were represented by both male and female flagbearers in an Olympic first, but not everybody stuck to pandemic protocols. In an awkward contrast to most other athletes, teams from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and Pakistan's flagbearers paraded maskless. The opening also featured fireworks in indigo and white, the colours of the Tokyo 2020 emblem, and gave a nod to Japanese tradition represented by giant wooden Olympic rings linked to the 1964 Games, which the city also hosted. Some delegations enlivened the mood with Uganda, wearing bright traditional costumes, doing a few measures of a dance, and Argentina jumping up and down on entering. A moment of silence was held "for all those family and friends we have lost," especially to Covid-19. Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Bach, both masked, cheered on the athletes after bowing to each other before sitting down socially distanced. "Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different from what all of us imagined. But finally we are all here together," said Bach in his opening speech addressing the athletes. Unlike his grandfather who opened the 1964 Games with a Japanese word that means "congratulations," Naruhito opted for a more neutral word in Japanese that is closer to "commemorate". The ceremony was marked by major absences, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wooed the Games to Tokyo. Top sponsors also stayed away, highlighting strong opposition to the event within Covid-fatigued Japan. Hundreds of people protested around the venue, while a recent poll showed 55% of respondents saying they opposed the event going ahead, with 68% expressing doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control coronavirus infections. Only a third of Japanese have had even one dose of vaccines, prompting worries the Games could become a super-spreader event. More than 100 people involved with the Olympics have already tested positive.
* Japanese women thrash Australia in opening softball match * WHO head backs Games to demonstrate what can be achieved * Spectators barred from events, including Friday opening ceremony * Brisbane set to be approved as host for 2032 Games Japan's women's softball team got the Tokyo 2020 Olympics off to a winning start for the hosts on Wednesday, kicking off a pandemic-postponed Games that the World Health Organization says can be "a celebration of hope" even as Covid-19 cases surge. Olympics and Japanese officials have forged ahead with the sports spectacle despite opposition in the country to hosting more than 11,000 athletes, staff and media - dozens of whom have already tested positive for Covid-19. Spectators have been barred and restrictions have been imposed in and around Tokyo in an effort to minimise health risks among residents and visitors. WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Games should go ahead to demonstrate to the world what can be achieved with the right plan and measures. "May the rays of hope from this land illuminate a new dawn for a healthy, safer and fairer world," he said, holding aloft an Olympic Games torch as he addressed International Olympic Committee members in the Japanese capital. "It is my sincere hope the Tokyo Games succeed." However, Tedros warned the world was in the early stages of another wave of infections and criticised vaccine discrepancies between countries. Japan, with about 34% of the population having had at least one dose of the vaccine, has been concerned the Olympics could become a super-spreader event. In a recent poll in the Asahi newspaper, 68% of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control coronavirus infections, with 55% saying they were opposed to the Games going ahead. The Games' official opening ceremony is on Friday and is expected to be a scaled-down, sobering performance, according to Marco Balich, a senior advisor to the Tokyo ceremonies executive producer. As with the opening ceremony, the women's softball match between gold-medal contender Japan and Australia was held without spectators amid buzzing cicadas and polite applause from a few hundred staff at the stadium in Fukushima. The region was devastated by the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, which was triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Players standing along the benches under the scorching sun - 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) by midgame - shouted at the hitters all morning, giving the game a Little League feel. The game ended after five innings due to a mercy rule as a trio of Japanese two-run homers cleared the fence. Two more softball games as well as the first six women's soccer matches are scheduled for later Wednesday. Tokyo 2020 organisers disclosed a further seven other Covid-19 infections among attendees on Wednesday, bringing the total to 75. Public broadcaster NHK said a Chilean taekwondo competitor plans to withdraw from the Olympic Games after testing positive. Cases have been on the rise in Tokyo and Japanese media reported that government adviser Shigeru Omi said Tokyo daily Covid-19 infections may spike to a record of 3,000 in first week of August, more than double their recent peak. That would cause an extremely high risk of pressuring on the already-stretched medical system. Underscoring the downsized Games due to the pandemic, top government spokesperson Katsunobu Kato said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will meet with only about 15 world leaders on the sidelines of the Olympics, compared with up to 120 previously. Tokyo had hoped to replicate some of its successes of hosting the 1964 Games, which helped launch Japan onto the international stage. Olympic officials are expected later on Wednesday to confirm preferred bidder Brisbane as host of the 2032 Summer Games, Australia's third time hosting the sporting extravaganza.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics sponsor Toyota will not run Games-related TV commercials because of lacklustre public support for the Olympics, with two-thirds of Japanese doubting a safe Games can be held during the Covid-19 pandemic, local media reported. Chief Executive Oficer of Toyota Motor Corp, Akio Toyoda, will not attend the opening ceremony, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Monday. Toyota did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Some 60 Japanese corporations who have paid more than $3 billion for sponsorship rights to the postponed 2020 Olympics now face a a dilemma of whether or not to tie their brands to an event that has so far failed to win strong public backing. Two-thirds of people in Japan doubt the country can host a safe and secure Olympics amid a fresh wave of coronavirus infections, according to a survey published by the Asahi newspaper just four days before the opening ceremony in Tokyo. In the poll, 68% of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control coronavirus infections, with 55% saying they were opposed to the Games going ahead. Three-quarters of the 1,444 people in the telephone survey said they agreed with a decision to ban spectators from events. As Covid-19 cases rise in Tokyo, which is under a fourth state of emergency, public concern has grown that hosting an event with tens of thousands of overseas athletes, officials and journalists could accelerate infection rates in Japan's capital and introduce variants that are more infectious or deadlier. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said he hopes the Japanese public will warm to the Games once competition begins and as Japanese athletes begin winning medals. The Tokyo Olympics run July 23 through Aug. 8. "We will continue to co-operate and work closely with organisers such as Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020, and the IOC to ensure we have a safe and secure environment for the Games," government spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a regular briefing. Games officials on Sunday reported the first Covid-19 case among competitors in the athletes' village in Tokyo where 11,000 athletes are expected stay during the Games. Since July 2, Tokyo 2020 organisers have reported 58 positive cases among athletes, officials and journalists. Any major outbreak in the village could wreak havoc on competitions because those either infected or isolating would not be able to compete. Olympic officials and individual event organisers have contingency plans to deal with infections among athletes. A Tokyo 2020 spokesperson said the village was a safe place to stay, adding the infection rate among athletes and other Games-related people visiting Japan was nearly 0.1 pct. On Sunday six British track and field athletes along with two staff members were forced to isolate after someone on their flight to Japan tested positive for Covid-19. "Many athletes may have parties or ceremonies before they go to Tokyo where there may be cheering or greeting. So they may also have a risk to get infected in their own countries," said Koji Wada, a professor at Tokyo’s International University of Health and Welfare and an adviser on the government’s coronavirus response The latest surge in cases in Tokyo comes after four earlier waves, the deadliest of which was in January. New Covid-19 cases in Tokyo reached 1,410 on Saturday, the most since the start of the year, with new infections exceeding 1,000 for five straight days. Most of those new cases are among younger people, as Japan has succeeded in getting most of its vulnerable elderly population vaccinated with at least one shot, although only 32% of the overall population has so far received one. As the start of the Olympics neared, Tokyo on Monday imposed road traffic restrictions, designating reserved lanes for Olympic officials, athletes and journalists travelling between sites. Transport authorities also hiked toll charges by 1,000 yen ($9.08) for private vehicles using the network of elevated expressways that snake through the city in a bid to reduce traffic during the Games.
Two athletes have tested positive for the coronavirus in the Tokyo Olympic Village after a team colleague was also infected, officials said on Sunday, raising fears of a cluster just days before the opening ceremony. The first cases involving athletes in the Village come a day after a member of their entourage returned the first positive test in the complex, which will house thousands of athletes. The three infections were revealed as competitors fly in from around the world for the pandemic-delayed Olympics, which are facing significant opposition in Japan due to their Covid risks. Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said the three cases "were from the same country and sport". They are "isolated in their rooms and Tokyo 2020 is delivering meals to them", he said, adding that the rest of the team have also been tested. The team was not identified. The Olympic Village, a complex of apartments and dining areas in Tokyo, will house 6,700 athletes and officials at its peak when the delayed 2020 Games finally get underway. The Tokyo Games, which will be held largely behind closed doors to prevent infections, are unpopular in Japan where opinion polls have consistently demonstrated a lack of support. Olympic officials have been at pains to play down the health risks of the Games, which are taking place in stringent anti-coronavirus conditions with athletes tested daily. "Mingling and crossing of populations is very limited. We keep the risk to an absolute minimum level," Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi said on Sunday. "We can ensure that transmission between the various groups is almost impossible." Fifty-five cases linked to the Games, which open on Friday, have been discovered this month, including four athletes. On Saturday, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach appealed for Japanese fans to show support, saying he was "very well aware of the scepticism" surrounding the Games. Athletes are arriving to find a restrictive environment, with daily testing, social distancing and no movement possible outside the Olympic "bubble". They are under orders to leave Japan 48 hours after their event. In another example of the difficulties, Australia's entire athletics team was quarantined before departure after a member of their entourage returned an inconclusive test. The official later tested negative. "We expect that there'll be cases associated with these Games and really what's going to matter is how we respond to that and to ensure that there's no complacency," said David Hughes, medical director of the Australian Olympic team. Australia has 194 athletes in the Olympic Village backed by support staff including psychologists to help them deal with the "extra strain" of the anti-Covid measures. Australian basketball star Liz Cambage was one of the athletes to pull out of the Games, citing mental health fears, while tennis player Nick Kyrgios withdrew due to the lack of fans. Australian chef de mission Ian Chesterman said a "buoyant" mood in the camp was tempered by caution over possible mental health problems in the unusual environment. "The mood and everything is sort of buoyant and excited to be here, and that we're conscious of the fact that it's like no other," he said. "We have to make sure that athlete, mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront of all their thinking." On Saturday, Games chief Seiko Hashimoto admitted athletes are "probably very worried" about coming to Japan, pledging full transparency over Covid cases. Japanese and Olympic officials have also been forced onto the defensive over a welcoming reception for Bach attended by 40 people while Tokyo remains under a coronavirus state of emergency.
A coronavirus cluster has been detected at a Japanese hotel where dozens of Brazilian Olympic team members are staying, officials said on Wednesday, raising concerns of Covid-19 infections spreading between locals and Olympic staff and athletes. Seven staff at the hotel in the city of Hamamatsu, southwest of Tokyo, have tested positive, said a city official, but the 31 members of the Brazilian Olympic delegation, which includes judo athletes, are in an "bubble" inside the hotel separated from other guests and have not been infected. The cases were found during a routine screening process required before the staff started work, said city official Yoshinobu Sawada, adding the unidentified hotel was now considered a Covid-19 cluster. Medical experts are worried that Olympics "bubbles", imposed by Tokyo 2020 Olympic officials in an effort to ensure a Covid-19 free Games, might not be completely tight as movement of staff servicing the Games can create opportunities for infections. The pandemic-hit Olympics, due to start in nine days, have lost public support amid lingering concerns over infection risks and a state of emergency being declared in Tokyo, despite organisers promising strict coronavirus measures. Many Olympic delegations are already in Japan ahead of the Games, some of them are training in local towns. Several athletes have tested positive upon their arrival. Members of the South African rugby team are in isolation after arriving in Japan, as they are believed to be close contacts with a case on their flight, said Kagoshima city, a host town for the team. The total of 21 members of the South African squad were due to stay in the city from Wednesday, but that plan has been halted until further advice from health authorities, said city official Tsuyoshi Kajihara. Global interest in the Tokyo Olympics is muted, an Ipsos poll of 28 countries showed, amid concerns over Covid-19 in Japan and withdrawals of high-profile athletes, with the host country among the most disinterested. The poll released on Tuesday found a global average of 46% interest in the Games, but excitement varied across markets, with less than 35% in Japan. Spectators have been barred from attending all Olympic events in Tokyo and surrounding regions and Japanese officials are asking residents to watch the Games on TV to keep the movement of people to a minimum. Only 22% of Japanese say the Games should go ahead, the Ipsos survey showed. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said a sufficient number of hospitals combined with a speed-up in the Covid-19 vaccination rollout among the elderly meant the city will be able to hold "safe and secure" Olympics. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, who has praised the organisers for staging the event, will meet Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday, Suga's office said. Australia will be bringing its biggest Olympic team ever to Tokyo 2020, the head of Australia’s national told reporters on Wednesday. Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman said he was very comfortable because almost all of his athletes were vaccinated. But a number of global star players are skipping the Games. Former world number one golfer Adam Scott said he questioned whether holding the Tokyo Olympics was a "responsible decision", pointing to fear among people in Japan as the country battles a resurgence of coronavirus infections. Scott said earlier that he would not play at Tokyo. Switzerland's Roger Federer became the latest big name in tennis to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics after the 20-times Grand Slam champion said on Tuesday that he had picked up a knee injury during the grasscourt season. The Games, postponed from last year because of the pandemic, run from July 23 to Aug. 8. Tokyo's state of emergency, the capital's fourth, lasts until Aug. 22, shortly before the Paralympics begin.
Even under ordinary circumstances, feeding an Olympic Village is a mammoth task, with chefs preparing tens of thousands of meals a day for elite athletes from around the world. But at Tokyo 2020, there's an added pressure: strict coronavirus rules forbid athletes from eating at local restaurants, so it's their only chance to sample Japan's famous cuisine. "I feel it's a lot of responsibility for us," admitted Tsutomu Yamane, senior director of Tokyo 2020's food and beverages services department. "We want them to enjoy (Japanese food)... but it's major pressure," he told AFP. It's a huge undertaking: the village can host up to 18,000 people at a time and its cafeterias will serve up to 48,000 meals a day, with some open around the clock. Anti-infection rules mean athletes can't go anywhere but the village, training sites and competition venues. So organisers will provide 700 menu options, 3,000 seats at the main two-storey cafeteria and 2,000 staff at peak hours to meet the needs of all. Menus are largely divided into three categories: Western, Japanese and Asian, which covers Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese options. And given Japan's world-famous cuisine, there will be plenty of local flavour. The focus will be on informal dishes rather than high-end dining, with ramen and udon noodles among the staples, said Yamane. Always-popular ramen will be offered in two of its most famous broths: soy sauce, and miso -- the fermented soybean paste that is central to Japanese cuisine. But there may be one big disappointment for Japanese food fans: no sushi with raw fish. Safety rules mean rolls will only feature cooked shrimp, canned tuna, cucumber and pickled plum. Two other favourites will be available though: grilled wagyu beef and tempura -- battered, fried vegetables and seafood. Some less familiar Japanese dishes will also be featured, including two specialities from the western Osaka region: okonomiyaki and takoyaki. The former is a savoury pancake cooked on a griddle that often contains cabbage and pork and is topped with a sweet sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito flakes. Takoyaki are small batter balls filled with octopus. And there is Japanese home cooking, courtesy of locals who entered a competition to have their dishes featured. Yoko Nishimura, a 59-year-old mother and housewife from Kamakura outside Tokyo, had almost forgotten about the competition after the Games was postponed. "Then I was contacted and told I was chosen. I could barely believe it," she told AFP. She was inspired by the summer heat to create a dish of cold somen noodles topped with grilled salmon, steamed chicken, edamame beans, broccoli, plum paste and grated yam. The dish, she said, "is full of things that are good for the body". It uses "salmon with its skin on, which has great nutrients like collagen. The edamame beans are full of protein, and broccoli has antioxidants for your body". Other meals chosen include oden -- a Japanese stew with a dashi broth base -- and a panna cotta made from edamame. Ingredients used will come from all 47 regions of Japan, including areas hit by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, in keeping with the Olympics' "Recovery Games" theme. While some countries still restrict food from areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan says produce from the region is subject to stricter standards than those used elsewhere in the world and items are rigorously tested. So while organisers will indicate the origins of food served in the casual dining area, there won't be any specific labelling to mark out items from Fukushima. Meals will cater to just about every religious and dietary restriction, including the first gluten-free section at a Games. As with everything at the pandemic-postponed Olympics, the virus will cast a long shadow. Seating has been reduced and athletes must keep mealtimes as short as possible. Nishimura is hopeful though that her dish will offer up something restorative. "Athletes coming for the Olympics could lose their appetites because of the hot summer and training hard. They may also feel a lot of pressure from competing in such a big event," she said. "I would even say that eating this (dish) will let them compete in top condition."
Sports bodies and athletes reacted with disappointment to the news there will be no spectators at the Tokyo Olympics but downplayed the potential impact on performances and said it was important that the global sporting showpiece went ahead. Organisers announced the decision to ban fans from Tokyo venues on Thursday as a resurgent novel coronavirus forced Japan to declare a state of emergency in the capital that will run throughout the Games. American 100 metres hurdles world record holder Kendra Harrison said not having fans present would make little difference in her bid to win a first Olympic medal. ‘In the midst of just being lined up with the best in the world, you are not really worried about who is in the stands,’ Harrison told Kentucky's Spectrum News 1. ‘You are just worried about going out and competing to the best of their abilities.’ Japan's Ayumi Uekusa, who will compete in karate at the Games, said it was a shame there will be no spectators to cheer on the athletes but that it was understandable under the circumstances. ‘If people are cheering from the safety of their homes, even if it's through a television screen, I think their encouragement will reach us,’ she told an online news conference. International Equestrian Federation (FEI) President Ingmar De Vos echoed the comments of other sports bodies when he said he respected and understood the organisers' decision. ‘It is unfortunate that there will not be any spectators in Tokyo, but it is of the utmost importance that the (Olympics) take place and that the world’s best athletes come together following years of preparation for this important moment,’ he told Reuters by e-mail. ‘While the atmosphere will be very different, the athletes will be 100% focused on what they need to do to be successful and achieve their goals.’ The New Zealand Olympic Committee said its athletes had been preparing for a scenario where there were no fans present. ‘Our athletes have generally prepared with no spectators in mind, it was a specific part of their process around these Olympic Games,’ said team psychologist Kylie Wilson. ‘Athletes have been developing practices to be self-reliant and to ignite their adrenaline from an internal source and will be putting these into play in Tokyo.’ Veteran Australian swimming coach Michael Bohl said the most successful Olympians were those who were able to adapt to changing conditions most quickly. ‘If the meet was starting tomorrow and it happened it might have been a bit concerning,’ Bohl told reporters on Friday. ‘But we have got two weeks for everything to resonate and I think it will be fine.’ One noticeable exception to the sentiment was Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios, who pulled out of the Games on Thursday because ‘the thought of playing in front of empty stands just doesn't sit right with me’. The Tokyo Games begin on July 23.
* Foreign spectators already excluded from delayed Games * Organisers to meet Thursday evening on domestic spectators: paper * Virus restrictions, public sentiment to affect decision Olympic organisers are set to ban all spectators from the Games, the Asahi daily said on Thursday, as Japan prepared to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo that will run through its hosting of the event to curb a new wave of coronavirus infections. Organisers were set to formally reach the decision on the spectators during five-way talks between key parties to be held on Thursday evening, the newspaper said, citing people involved in the Games. The move is the latest blow to the troubled Olympics, already delayed by a year because of the pandemic and plagued by a series of setbacks, including massive budget overruns. Medical experts have said for weeks 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% of capacity, up to 10,000 people. Anyone wanting to support athletes has been told to do so by clapping rather than cheering or singing. Public viewing sites have been cancelled and companies, wary of public opposition, have been hesitant about advertising related to the Games, adding to a subdued mood in the Japanese capital. The evening talks are to be chaired by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who arrives in Tokyo on Thursday. Other participants include the Tokyo and national governments and Paralympic officials. TOKYO INFECTIONS RISE Japan has not experienced 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 Japan's population has had at least one Covid-19 vaccination shot. The imposition of a new state of emergency in Tokyo comes after new daily infections in the capital rose to 920 on Wednesday, the highest level since mid-May. Japan's economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who heads the government's coronavirus response, said the new restrictions will begin on July 12 and run through Aug 22. The Games are scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8. Tokyo is currently under slightly less strict ‘quasi emergency’ curbs. Under the heightened restrictions, restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, Nishimura said. Areas neighbouring Tokyo where some Olympic events are also slated to take place, such as Chiba and Kanagawa, are set to remain under ‘quasi emergency’ through August 22. SPECTATORS, SPONSORS Underscoring the last-minute nature of the preparations, organisers have presented various spectator scenarios to Olympic sponsors as late as Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the situation. Sponsors were told that in the case of a no-spectator scenario, all sports and opening and closing ceremonies will likely be carried out without fans, including tickets allocated to the sponsors. The lack of crowds may further strain the Games' budget https://www.reuters.com/article/us-olympics-2020-coronavirus-money-factb-idCAKCN2DY2MI, which has already blown out to an estimated $15.4 billion, with ticket revenues of around $815 million expected to take a big hit. The organising committee did not immediately respond to an e-mail 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 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, they said.
* Foreign spectators already excluded from delayed Games * Organisers to meet Thursday to discuss spectators * Virus restrictions, public sentiment to affect decision Japan is considering banning all spectators from the Olympic Games, several sources told Reuters on Wednesday, as officials weigh extending novel coronavirus restrictions to contain infections just over two weeks before the Games begin. Medical experts have said for weeks that having no spectators at the Olympics would be the least risky option amid widespread public concern about the risk the Games will fuel new surges of infections. Organisers have already banned overseas spectators and set a cap on domestic spectators at 50% of capacity, up to 10,000 people, to contain a lingering coronavirus outbreaks. Officials have been wrestling with the question for months but a ruling party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some allies of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attributed to public anger over the Games, had forced their thinking, sources said. "Politically speaking, having no spectators is now unavoidable," a ruling party source told Reuters. Japan will hold a general election later this year and the government's insistence that the Games - postponed last year as the virus was spreading around the world - should go ahead this year could cost it at the ballot box. The Tokyo 2020 organising committee said restrictions on spectators would be based on the content of Japan's coronavirus state of emergency, or other relevant measures. Japan has not experienced the kind of explosive Covid-19 outbreaks seen elsewhere but has seen more than 800,000 cases and 14,800 deaths. The capital, Tokyo, reported 920 new daily cases on Wednesday, the highest since May 13. A slow rollout has meant only a quarter of its population has had at least one Covid-19 vaccination shot. Preparations for the Games have been shrouded in concerns about the impact of Covid-19 as authorities have struggled to stamp out persistent clusters of infections, particularly in and around Tokyo. On Thursday, the government is likely to extend restrictions in Tokyo and three nearby prefectures beyond an original end-date of July 11, government sources have said. Kyodo News reported the extension would likely last a month, meaning the curbs will be in place throughout the Olympics, which begin on July 23 and close on Aug. 8. The issue of spectators is due to be decided at five-way talks on Thursday, which will include the Tokyo governor and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach. Asked about the topic at a news conference on Tuesday, top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said Suga has said holding the Games without spectators was a possibility. Shigeru Omi, the government's top health adviser, told a parliamentary health committee on Wednesday it was important to reduce the number of Olympic officials and others attending events as much as possible. Early July to September was "one of the most important periods" in combating the coronavirus in Japan, he said. "We have been saying that it's preferable that the events be held without spectators," said Omi. "We are asking many people to take steps to prevent further spread of the infection. Images of spectators would be sending out a contradictory message to a lot of people ... In formulating our coronavirus response, people's feelings are a very important factor." In another blow to the Games, organisers announced on Tuesday they would ask the public not to gather on the streets to watch the marathon, one of the most popular events of the Games. Tokyo authorities have also decided to move most of the torch relay, set to reach the capital on Friday, off public roads. Torch-lighting ceremonies without spectators will be held instead.