Encourage Olympic spectators to go right to venues, then right back home

With the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics one month away, the number of spectators to be allowed at venues has finally been announced. All possible measures must be taken to ensure the safety of spectators and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The government, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the International Olympic Committee and other organizations held a five-way meeting, at which they agreed to set 10,000 as the maximum number of spectators allowed at each venue.

Spectators from overseas had already been banned and it was decided to allow in only people residing in Japan, in accordance with restrictions on spectators for large-scale events. The committee said there will be another review of how to handle the situation if a state of emergency is declared, or similar measures are taken, including the possibility of holding competitions without spectators.

As for the Paralympics, the parties concerned will decide on the plan for spectators by July 16, one week before the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

The number of spectators allowed at the Olympics was supposed to be decided this spring, but this was postponed because the future infection situation could not be predicted. Later on, due to such factors as the declaration of a state of emergency, there were increasing calls for the Olympics to be canceled or held without spectators.

Considering the amount of time it will take to establish security and medical systems at the venues, the decision can be said to have come just in time.

However, it is difficult yet to say that concerns about the spread of the virus have disappeared.

Shigeru Omi, chairman of the government’s subcommittee on novel coronavirus measures, and others have said that having no spectators poses the lowest risk, and they have called for stricter standards than for ordinary events if spectators are allowed.

A group of researchers from such organizations as the National Institute of Infectious Diseases has also estimated that the number of new infections in Tokyo during the Games could possibly exceed 1,000 people per day if the Delta variant first detected in India spreads.

The organizing committee must take into account various opinions and implement all possible measures to dispel the public’s anxiety.

There are concerns about spectators drinking and carousing around the venues and on bustling streets before and after watching competitions. The organizing committee said it will ask spectators to “come straight here and go straight back home” when visiting venues, and to stagger the times they come to venues.

A team of researchers from the University of Tokyo and other institutions has announced its analysis that an increase in the number of people who go home from a venue without stopping at restaurants, bars and elsewhere would have the same effect as reducing the number of spectators at venues. The data indicates that the spread of infections can be deterred by the actions of individual spectators.

Spectators who act in ways that possibly contribute to the spread of infections, such as causing disturbances with loud voices, may be subject to severe measures, such as ejection from a venue. It is important for spectators to act carefully and with self-awareness in this regard.

Now that the number of spectators allowed at venues has been decided, preparations for the Olympics will get fully underway. It is important to respond flexibly while assessing the infection situation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 22, 2021.