Yesterday, a state of emergency began in Japan’s capital. The number of new COVID-19 cases is climbing fast, and hospital beds are filling up just 11 days ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Increasingly, more areas are barring fans from attending Olympic sporting events because of rising coronavirus infections.
Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned all fans from abroad months ago. In addition, Japanese fans could not attend venues in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures (similar to U.S. states). These make up the vast majority of Olympic venues. However, fans at a few remote sites were at first allowed limited attendance.
Now two prefectures have backed out of those plans.
On Saturday, Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan decided to hold its baseball and softball events without spectators. It has been joined by the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, which will hold soccer games without fans at the Sapporo Dome.
In selecting Fukushima for the Olympics, Japan was trying to shine a light on recovery efforts in an area devastated in 2011 by an earthquake, tsunami, and the subsequent meltdown of three nuclear reactors. (See Releasing Water from Nuke Disaster.)
“Many people including children have been looking forward to the games, and I’m very sorry to take away their chance of watching baseball and softball at the stadium,” Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori announced. “It was a very tough decision to make.”
How disappointing for those with Olympic tickets! It’s a reminder that Christians do well to trust God and hold plans and events loosely. (Proverbs 19:21)
So far, a few other events being held in the outlying prefectures of Miyagi, Shizuoka, and Ibaraki will go ahead with limited spectators, organizers say.
Polls show over half of Japanese oppose holding the Olympics at all. On Saturday about 40 people staged a small anti-Olympic protest outside the five-star hotel where IOC President Thomas Bach is self-isolating after arriving in Tokyo on Thursday.
“He (Bach) seems not to have thought anything about our critical situation and suffering, which makes me more angry,” says protester Ayako Yoshida.
Bach’s protesters carried a sign that read in English “Cancel the Tokyo Olympics” and one that had a red line drawn through the face of Bach saying, “You Are Not Welcome.”
Infections are popping up as thousands of athletes and officials start entering Japan with the opening ceremony set for July 23. Tokyo registered 950 new infections on Saturday. It was the 21st straight day that infections were higher than a week previous. The pandemic has not been as severe in Japan as other places, but the country has not performed as well as some of its Asian neighbors in containing it.
On Saturday, organizers said 18 people linked to the Olympics have tested positive since July 1. Most are listed as “residents of Japan.” Organizers include few details in the list, which they say is to protect privacy. Only two of the 18 are listed as “non-residents of Japan.” Most are listed as “contractors.” One member of the “media” is included. Three cases are listed as “games-connected personnel.”
Organizers say the list does not include all positive tests. Athletes who may have tested positive in training camp situations may not be included.
About 11,000 Olympic athletes are to enter Tokyo along with tens of thousands of support staff, judges, officials, media, and broadcasters. The Paralympics involve 4,400 athletes and are supposed to open on August 24.
(Protesters opposing the Olympic and Paralympic Games for Tokyo 2020 confront police officers in Tokyo, on July 10, 2021. The poster, center, reads, “Don’t enter Hiroshima,” with a picture of IOC President Thomas Bach and graffiti over his face. AP /Kwiyeon Ha)