TOKYO — Japan is set to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo through August 22 to contain a new wave of coronavirus infections, a key minister said on Thursday, as the organizers consider banning all spectators from the Olympics starting in about two weeks.
Medical advisers to the government have said for weeks that having no spectators at the Games would be the least risky option amid widespread public concern that the influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.
Organizers have already banned overseas spectators and have for now set a cap on domestic viewers at 50% of capacity, up to 10,000 people. Talks to finalize the restrictions on the spectators are expected either on Thursday or on Friday.
The talks would be presided over by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who arrives in Tokyo on Thursday to oversee the last leg of the preparations.
Japan’s economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who heads the government’s coronavirus response, said a state of emergency in Tokyo is set to begin on July 12, after new daily infections rose to 920 on Wednesday, the highest level since mid-May.
The Tokyo area is currently under slightly less strict “quasi emergency” curbs. Under the heightened restrictions, restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, Nishimura said.
The move is expected to be made official later on Thursday and followed by a news conference by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Areas neighboring Tokyo where some Olympic events are also slated to take place, such as Chiba and Kanagawa, are set to remain under “quasi emergency” through August 22.
The Olympic Games are scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8.
Until this week, officials have insisted they could organize the Games safely with some spectators, but a ruling party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some allies of Suga attributed to public anger over the Olympics, had forced the change of tack, sources said.
Japan will hold a parliamentary election later this year and the government’s insistence that the Games – postponed last year as the virus spread around the world – should go ahead this year could cost it at the ballot box, they said.
(Additional reporting by Rocky Swift and Eimi Yamamitsu; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Lincoln Feast.)