The Tokyo Olympics will now officially be held under a state of emergency, and all spectators will reportedly be banned.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga on Thursday declared a new state of emergency in Tokyo that will last through the entirety of the Olympics, citing a rising number of COVID-19 cases, CNN reports.
"The number of infected cases in the area including Tokyo has been increasing since the end of last month," Suga said. "The number of severe cases and bed occupancy rate continues to be on the low level, but considering the impact of variants, we need to enhance countermeasures so that the infection will not spread nationwide."
It had previously been announced that the Olympics would allow up to 10,000 spectators, or 50 percent of a venue's capacity. But as the new state of emergency was declared, Japan's Asahi daily newspaper reported that organizers are expected to ban all spectators, Reuters reports. Yasutoshi Nishimura, who leads the country's pandemic response, said there has been a "remarkable increase of infections especially in the big cities in the Tokyo area," CNN reports.
The plan to go forward with the Olympics amid the pandemic has faced opposition in Japan, where the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been slow. The previous decision to allow up to 10,000 spectators came despite a warning from experts that "there is a risk the movement of people and opportunities to interact during the Olympics will spread infections and strain the medical system" and that the "least risky" option would be not having any spectators, per The Washington Post. Spectators from overseas were previously banned.
"I, of course, support 'no spectators,'" Kyoto University professor Yuki Furuse said, per Reuters, "but concerns will never disappear as long as we have a big event like the Games, along with holidays and the vacation season."