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Takeshita-Dori avenue in Harajuku, Tokyo, is seen crowded with people on Friday.             --Photo the Yomiuri Shimbun

Games begin with no spectators, as crowds throng central Tokyo

JAPAN (The Japan News/ANN) -- As the Olympics officially got started on Friday, crowds were conspicuous on the streets of Tokyo, where many events are being held and coronavirus cases are rising rapidly.
Government and Games officials have taken the bold step of holding events at most Olympic venues with no spectators, a tough decision made to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But will it be possible to hold the Games successfully and contain the spread of infections at the same time?
The about 68,000-capacity National Stadium was supposed to be packed with spectators from Japan and abroad during the Olympics. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Tokyo Games were postponed by one year for the first time in Olympic history.
Although officials searched until the very last moment for a way to hold events with fans in attendance, they eventually decided to ban spectators from most venues in an effort to keep down the number of people traveling around the country.
The budget for the Games, including additional expenses needed for the postponement and coronavirus measures, has risen to ¥1.644 trillion.
The Tokyo metropolitan government has canceled the public viewings it had planned to hold at six venues in Tokyo.
“We have scrapped a lot of things and venues will have no spectators to ensure sports events will not be blamed for spreading the virus,” a senior official of the metropolitan government said. But with foot traffic in Tokyo on the rise, it can hardly be said that the general public is paying attention.
Tokyo is under a state of emergency for the fourth time since the outbreak of the pandemic last year.
According to NTT Docomo Inc. data, the number of people at Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ueno train stations in central Tokyo from 3 pm up to 4 pm on Friday was 10 percent to 50 percent higher than on the same day last year.
Foot traffic in Shibuya and Ueno on Friday had increased even compared to July 11, the day before the latest state of emergency came into effect.
Traffic jams have also been seen on expressways, with a 46-kilometre traffic jam forming on Thursday and a 15-kilometre one on Friday. Both days were national holidays.
The number of coronavirus cases in Tokyo has soared, with the seven-day average reaching 1,386 on Friday. The number of COVID-19 patients in Tokyo hospitals was double the figure from a month earlier, at 2,558.
At a Tokyo metropolitan government coronavirus meeting, experts forecast that the number of new daily cases will reach about 2,600 in early August.
“Infections are spreading at a pace that is even faster than in the third wave [in winter],” said Tokyo gov. Yuriko Koike.
Only 20 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The metropolitan government intends to speed up the pace of vaccinations during the Games, converting venues that were supposed to be used for public viewings into vaccination sites.
According to government experts, receiving two shots of a vaccine reduces the risk of being infected with the novel coronavirus or becoming seriously ill if infected.
There have been cases of fully vaccinated people subsequently testing positive for the virus. Takaji Wakita, the director general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said: “It is less risky for people who have been vaccinated to do things together, but full vaccination does not mean 100 percent protection.”


(Latest Update July 26, 2021)

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