With just over two weeks until the Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin, top Japanese officials are reportedly considering a ban on spectators amid concerns that crowds could fuel new coronavirus outbreaks.
Several unidentified sources told Reuters on Wednesday that a setback for Japan’s ruling party in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which allies of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attributed to public pushback of the games amid the pandemic, has forced officials to reconsider their decision to allow a limited number of local spectators.
Olympic organizers said last month that they would allow 10,000 local fans, or approximately 50 percent capacity, at the games.
“Politically speaking, having no spectators is now unavoidable,” a ruling party source told the news service.
Suga has said that his government would issue new measures to combat the virus on Thursday, which Reuters reported will likely influence whether spectators will be present at the Olympic events later this month.
A Japanese daily newspaper, the Sankei Shimbun, reported Wednesday that government sources said a state of emergency could be declared in Tokyo until Aug. 22.
While Japan has been relatively successful in containing its coronavirus infection and fatality rates, clusters of infections have continued amid a slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Tokyo reported 920 new infections on Wednesday alone, with Japan recording a total of more than 800,000 cases and 14,800 deaths due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to Reuters.
The news agency noted that just about 25 percent of Japan’s total population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee, said after announcing last month that a limited number of fans would be allowed at the Games that a complete ban on spectators was still possible.
"We may potentially bring down the number of spectators, a cap on the spectators or ... no spectators," Hashimoto told NBC News at the time, adding that events could be canceled during the Olympics if athletes begin testing positive for COVID-19.
The games were postponed last year due to the pandemic.