79,000 people flying in for Tokyo Olympics, Japanese media reports

Organisers of Games are pressing ahead despite massive public opposition due to Covid pandemic

Almost 80,000 Olympic officials, journalists and support staff will descend on Tokyo in July, according to media reports in Japan, as organisers press ahead with plans to hold the Games despite overwhelming public opposition in the host country.

An estimated 79,000 people will arrive from overseas to attend Tokyo 2020, the Kyodo news agency and Nikkei business newspaper said on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

That is about half the number expected before the coronavirus pandemic forced the Games’ postponement last year, and comes after organisers asked national Olympic committees and sports federations to reduce the sizes of their delegations.

The Tokyo 2020 chief executive, Toshiro Muto, had said that the number of visitors would be kept to below 90,000 – and could be cut further – as organisers and the International Olympic Committee [IOC] attempted to reassure a nervous Japanese public that the Games can be held safely.

An additional 11,500 athletes competing in Tokyo this summer will not be required to quarantine on arrival but will be tested daily for Covid-19 and confined to their accommodation and sports venues, with transport laid on to ferry them between the two.

On Wednesday, Thomas Bach, the IOC president, said he expected more than 80% of people staying in the athletes’ village to have been vaccinated by the time the Games open on 23 July.

“For obvious reasons we cannot give them [athletes] every detail yet, but the most important principle is very clear: the Olympic village is a safe place and the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be organised in a safe way,” Bach told an online meeting of the IOC, Tokyo organisers and other officials.

Bach will arrive in Tokyo on 12 July, 11 days before the opening ceremony, media reports said. He was supposed to have greeted the torch relay in Hiroshima this week but that visit was postponed due to a resurgence of virus cases in Japan.

Tokyo and several other parts of the country are in the fourth week of a targeted state of emergency called late last month after a surge in cases threatened to overwhelm medical services.

Graphic

The measures, which target bars and restaurants, will remain in place until at least the end of this month. The affected regions include Hokkaido, whose biggest city, Sapporo, will host the Olympic marathon and walking events, while Okinawa prefecture has asked to be added to the list after reporting a record number of new infections on Wednesday.

Concern that large numbers of visitors arriving in Tokyo this summer could turn the Games into a “superspreader” event has turned most Japanese against the Olympics.

A recent opinion poll found that 83% believed the Games should be cancelled or postponed again – an option the IOC has ruled out, citing a packed sporting calendar in 2022. An online petition has attracted more than 375,000 signatures in just two weeks, while opponents have been holding street protests in central Tokyo.

Japan’s medical workers are leading the calls for cancellation. This week an organisation representing 6,000 doctors in Tokyo said calling off the Games was “the correct choice”, warning that they could lead to a rise in infections and deaths.

While cases have fallen in Tokyo over the past week, numbers remain stubbornly high there and in other parts of the country, with experts warning that more transmissible variants of the virus account for the vast majority of new infections.

While all athletes have been offered vaccines following an agreement between the IOC and Pfizer/BioNTech, just 3.7% of Japan’s 126 million people have received at least one shot – the lowest rate among major economies. In addition, less than 30% of medical workers in Tokyo have been fully vaccinated, the Nikkei said.

Contributor

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

The GuardianTramp

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