The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, officials from the organizing committee and the IOC said on Monday.
The organizers set a limit of 50% of the capacity to a maximum of 10,000 fans for all Olympic venues.
The decision was announced after the so-called online talks of five parties with local organizers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, the Japanese government and the government of Tokyo.
The decision contradicts the country’s best medical adviser, Dr. Shigeru Omi, who recommended last week that the safest way to host the Olympics be without fans. He had previously called it “abnormal” to hold the Olympics during a pandemic.
The Games in Tokyo are scheduled to open on July 23.
Fans from abroad were banned a few months ago. Officials say local fans will be subject to strict rules. They will not be allowed to cheer, they must wear masks and are told to go home straight afterwards.
Organizers say between 3.6-3.7 million tickets are in the hands of Japanese residents.
Having fans on the premises poses a risk of spreading COVID-19 infections, and not just on the seats, as it causes more circulation in trains, restaurants and other public spaces.
Tokyo and other areas are in a “quasi-emergency” state until July 11. This replaced the stricter full state of emergency that was in effect until last weekend. The new rules will allow restaurants to serve alcohol in limited hours.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who prefers to allow fans, said before the official announcement that he would ban fans if conditions change.
“If an emergency is needed, I will be flexible and open to any fans to ensure that the games give the highest priority to the safety and security of the people,” Suga said. “In the event of an emergency, it’s entirely possible … for safe and secure (games) I won’t hesitate to have no fans.”
He said he took Omi’s recommendations “seriously” but did not follow them.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike also said before the talks that fans could be banned if conditions change.
“In this COVID-19 pandemic, the people of Tokyo, the people of Japan, feel very uneasy. We have concerns and experts are also making recommendations on the risk of spreading the infection, “Koike said. “If there is to be a significant change in the sanitary situation or the infection, we need to reconsider this issue with each other and we may need to consider the possibility of no spectators at the venues.”
Recent polls appear to have increased support for the Olympics, although opposition has been strong, depending on how the issue is worded. A poll by the Asahi newspaper from June 19 to 20 of almost 1,500 people shows that 62% support another postponement or cancellation of the games. But about a third supported the Olympics, up from 14% in May in the same survey.
In the same survey, 83% said they “felt uneasy” that the Olympics could spread the virus. The poll says 53% do not want fans, and 42% say attendance should be limited.
The seven-day average for new infections in Tokyo is about 400 a day. The curve is leveling off, but health officials fear the Olympics will be new.
About 6.5% of Japanese have been fully vaccinated, and 16.5% have fired at least one shot, according to the prime minister’s office. More than 14,000 deaths in Japan have been attributed to COVID-19.