June 25, 2022

Organisers bar spectators from Tokyo Paralympics over virus

Organisers bar spectators from Tokyo Paralympics over virus

Toshiro Muto (L), CEO of Tokyo 2020, and Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto (R) attend a press conference following a four-party meeting in Tokyo on August 16, 2021, where the decision was made to bar spectators from the Tokyo Paralympics over coronavirus fears. (Photo by Rodrigo Reyes Marin / POOL / AFP)

Spectators will be barred from the Tokyo Paralympics over coronavirus fears, organisers said Monday, as Japan battles record infections despite emergency measures in several parts of the country.

The Paralympics open on August 24, and some teams are already in the country at training camps.

But the Games come with Japan facing a new wave of virus cases and states of emergency in place in six regions.

“More stringent measures will be taken for competitions to be held in these prefectures, including no spectators,” organisers said in a joint statement with local and national governments and the International Paralympic Committee.

The statement said an exception would be made to allow some school children to attend under a special programme.

But organisers emphasised children would only participate with “safety measures” and “where local authorities or school administrations request this in response to the wishes of parents and others”.

The decision had been widely expected and follows the same measures in place for the Olympics, which ended on August 8.

Virus cases are surging across Japan, with over 20,000 new daily infections recorded in recent days, driven by the more contagious Delta variant.

Tokyo and five other areas are currently under a state of emergency that bans alcohol sales by bars and restaurants and limits their opening hours. The measure also caps event attendance at 5,000 people, or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less.

Japan’s government has insisted the Paralympics will be held safely, and that it remains committed to hosting them, but it is under growing pressure over the virus.

Just 37 percent of Japan’s population is fully vaccinated, after a slow start to the vaccine rollout.

The pace has recently picked up considerably, and the government says all adults who want a vaccine will be able to have one by the autumn.

But the Delta variant has outpaced the vaccination programme, as in many other places, and the emergency measures in place increasingly appear insufficient to curb the spread of infection.

The surge in cases comes with just over a week until the Paralympics open.

Around 4,400 athletes are expected to take part, and like their Olympic counterparts they will face daily testing and restrictions on their movement.

Despite the surge in virus cases in Japan during the Olympics, Games officials said there was no evidence of a link to the massive sporting event.

Cases had been rising before the Games began, and a state of emergency was already in place in Tokyo as the Olympics opened.

Olympic organisers have reported 540 positive cases among athletes, officials and media, most of them among Japan-based employees and contractors.

Another three people have tested positive within 14 days of leaving Japan, all of them media, according to organisers.

And at least 31 people associated with the Paralympic Games have tested positive so far, with other cases reported among teams that arrived early for training camps.

International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons warned last week that participants should not let down their guard.

“While it is encouraging that the Olympic Games were delivered safely and successfully, those attending the Paralympic Games should not get complacent,” he said.

“We cannot ignore the current case numbers in Japan and Tokyo, and I urge every single stakeholder for the Paralympic Games to be vigilant.”

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