With 30 days to go until the start of an Olympic Games dogged by the coronavirus pandemic and by controversy, Tokyo Olympics organizers decided on Wednesday against selling alcohol at venues while defending plans to allow thousands of spectators.
Organizers have pushed ahead with preparations for the Games, postponed from 2020 because of the pandemic, despite strong concerns among the Japanese public that hosting delegations from across the globe could result in further COVID-19 outbreaks.
Media reports that organizers were considering allowing alcohol consumption in Olympics venues provoked a public outcry earlier this week, with the hashtag “cancel the Olympic Games” garnering tens of thousands of tweets.
“Following experts’ advice, the organizing committee decided against selling and drinking alcohol drinks at the venues so as to prevent spread of infections,” Tokyo Olympics President Seiko Hashimoto told reporters, adding that sponsor Asahi Breweries agreed with the decision to ban alcohol sales.
Alcohol sales have been restricted in and around Tokyo after health officials warned drinking would encourage close contact, loud speaking and mingling in bars that could help spread the virus.
Earlier, Hashimoto defended the organizers’ decision to allow spectators into Olympic venues.
Japanese medical experts have said banning spectators was the least risky option but also included recommendations on how best to host the Games if spectators were admitted.
Organizers said on Monday up to 10,000 domestic spectators would be allowed into venues. Foreign visitors are banned.
“We decided that it would be better to do the best preparations we can for a Games with spectators,” Hashimoto said at a media roundtable attended by Reuters on Tuesday, saying the decision was in line with the medical experts’ recommendations.
“Of course, I understand that holding the event without spectators would lower the risk, but there is evidence that there have been no clusters at other events and tournaments,” Hashimoto said.
Japan’s PM says ‘natural’ not to hold Olympics if public cannot be protected amid COVID-19
Organisers said on Wednesday they would decide on whether to allow spectators at night sessions, taking infections into account, by July 12 when virus curbs are due to be lifted in Tokyo and some other areas.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has still not ruled out holding the Games without spectators if Tokyo is put back under a state of emergency, from which it only emerged on June 21. The Games’ opening ceremony is set for July 23.
“The major challenge at the Tokyo Games is to curb a flow of people and limit a sense of celebration,” Hashimoto said on Wednesday. “We are striving to make the Tokyo Games safe and secure, so it won’t be full of celebration.”
Many Japanese remain skeptical about the possibility of holding even a scaled-down Games safely during a pandemic.
In another blow to organizers’ pledge that the Games will be safe, a member of the Ugandan delegation who arrived in Japan on the weekend tested positive for coronavirus despite having been vaccinated and testing negative for COVID-19 before arrival.
The nine-strong delegation canceled their plans to train and are currently quarantining in a hotel, local media reported.
Hashimoto said the incident was proof of the effectiveness of the coronavirus measures in place.
“We were able to identify this person at the border precisely because we have the proper border measures in place,” she said.
But the arduous preparations for the Olympics also appeared to have taken its toll on organizers.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike was hospitalized on Tuesday after the metropolitan government said she would take the rest of the week off due to fatigue.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Antoni Slodkowski and Ami Miyazaki Editing by Gareth Jones and Lincoln Feast.)