Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

A COVID-19 state of emergency was declared for Tokyo that will run through its hosting of this summer's Olympic Games.

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images

The Olympics will take place without spectators in host city Tokyo, organizers said on Thursday, as a resurgent coronavirus forced Japan to declare a state of emergency in the capital that will run throughout the Games.

The move marked a sharp turnabout from as recently as last week, when some officials were still insisting they could organize the Games safely with some fans. It all but strips the global sporting showpiece, which is due to start on July 23 and run until Aug. 8, of its last vestiges of pomp and public spectacle.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was essential to prevent Tokyo, where the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 variant was spreading, from becoming a flashpoint of new infections.

Story continues below advertisement

Hopes dashed for Tokyo Olympic ticket holders after spectators banned due to COVID-19 emergency

People will also be asked not to gather for events on public roads, such as the triathlon, though officials said some venues outside the greater Tokyo metropolitan area would allow small numbers of spectators.

“It is regrettable that we are delivering the Games in a very limited format, facing the spread of coronavirus infections,” Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said, following talks between government officials, Tokyo organizers and Olympic and Paralympic representatives.

“I am sorry for those who purchased tickets.”

MEDICAL WARNINGS

Once seen as an opportunity for Japan to shine on a global stage after a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster over the past decade, the Games were postponed last year due to the pandemic and have been hit by massive budget overruns.

Much of Japan’s population is still not vaccinated against COVID-19, stoking fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel more infections. Medical experts have said for weeks that holding the Games without spectators would be the least risky way of staging the event.

Organizers were still uncertain how much revenue would be lost due to the absence of spectators, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said, adding they were looking to further cut staff.

Torch relays have been scaled back or taken off of public roads, and promotional events dropped. Tokyo – which had been counting on a record boom in tourism – has experienced none of the buzz and excitement that normally characterize host cities.

Story continues below advertisement

Japan’s drive to hold the Olympics even as the epidemic worsened alienated much of the public and sparked concern among sponsors about a consumer backlash.

Suga said COVID-19 infections were on the rise in Tokyo, due in part to the Delta variant, warning that that it could hit the rest of the country.

“We absolutely must avoid Tokyo being the starting point again of another spread of the infection,” he told a news conference.

Tokyo’s neighbouring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba will also not allow spectators at their Olympic events, the government said.

SLOW VACCINE ROLLOUT

Japan has not suffered the kind of explosive COVID-19 outbreaks seen in many other countries. But it has had more than 810,000 cases and 14,900 deaths and the slow vaccine rollout has meant only a quarter of the population has had at least one shot.

New daily cases in the capital could increase to 1,000 in July and 2,000 in August, raising the risk of hospitals in the capital region running out of beds, according to projections from Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor working with the government’s coronavirus experts group.

Story continues below advertisement

The new state of emergency in Tokyo, under which restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, will begin on Monday and run through to Aug 22. It was announced as the capital reported 896 new daily infections on Thursday, near highs last seen in mid-May.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who chaired Thursday’s talks after arriving in Tokyo earlier in the day, told reporters that strict and successful measures were in place.

Underscoring the last-minute nature of Olympic preparations, which had left sponsors frustrated, organizers presented various spectator scenarios to sponsors as late as Wednesday, according to sources.

Sponsors were told that in the case of no spectators, all sports and opening and closing ceremonies would likely be held without fans, meaning tickets allocated to sponsors could not be used.

The absence of crowds seems certain to further strain the Games’ budget, which has already blown out to an estimated $15.4-billion, with ticket revenues of about $815-million set to dwindle to close to zero.

Officials’ assurances that spectators would attend were knocked back after a ruling party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some allies of Suga attributed to public anger over the Olympics, sources said.

Story continues below advertisement

Japan will hold a parliamentary election this year and the government’s insistence that the Games would not be postponed a second time could cost it at the ballot box, they said.

Sign up for The Globe’s Olympic newsletter and follow all of the news, features and opinion in the lead-up to the Summer Games in Tokyo.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies