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Japan PM warns of closed-door Olympics as COVID-19 cases rise

Japan PM warns of closed-door Olympics as COVID-19 cases rise

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks to media in front of the Olympics mascots at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Thursday, July 1, 2021. Suga was still uncertain whether fans can be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics because of growing concern about rising COVID-19 cases on Thursday only three weeks before the games.(Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO: Japan's prime minister has warned that the Tokyo Olympics could be held behind closed doors, as COVID-19 cases rise in the city just three weeks before the Games begin.

Organisers decided last month to set a limit of 10,000 spectators or half of each venue's capacity for events at the pandemic-postponed Games. 

But Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday (Jul 1) that fans could be locked out if the situation worsens, with the government expected to extend coronavirus measures covering Tokyo as new cases continue to climb. 

"There is a possibility of there being no spectators" at the Games, Suga said. "We will act with the safety and security of the Japanese people as our top priority."

The Yomiuri Shimbun daily said on Friday that spectators could be barred from events held in the evening or in large venues, citing unnamed sources.

The Yomiuri and other media said organisers are also likely to delay a ticket lottery for oversubscribed events, which was set to take place next Tuesday.

"Infections are rebounding in Tokyo and other places, and people are calling for prevention measures to be strengthened," the Yomiuri report said.

READ: Japan likely to extend COVID-19 curbs in Tokyo as infections rise: Sources

COVID-19 cases have been rising in Japan since a state of emergency was lifted last month and replaced with softer restrictions that are set to expire on Jul 11.

But the government is likely to extend them as early as next week, meaning they could still be in place when the Games open on Jul 23.

Up to 5,000 spectators are allowed at sporting events under the current measures, which also requires restaurants and bars to close early.

READ: Pandemic Games will show 'true Olympic values': Tokyo 2020 chief

Organisers were set to hold a lottery next Tuesday to allocate tickets for events that are oversubscribed under current attendance limits.

They need to reclaim around 900,000 of the 3.6 million tickets that are already spoken for, with reductions required in eight sports and the opening and closing ceremonies.

But uncertainty over attendance limits now means the lottery is likely to be postponed, leaving some fans sweating on their places less than three weeks before the Games begin.

No more tickets will be sold and spectators from overseas have already been barred from attending.

Japan's virus outbreak has been less severe than in many countries, with around 14,800 deaths overall, but experts warn that another wave of cases could stretch medical services around the time of the Games.

Around 11 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated so far.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and its developments

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Source: AFP/vc

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