People walking in Tokyo
People walking in Tokyo

The Tokyo Olympics organizing committee said Friday it has sold tickets for 42 percent of the venues’ capacity and expects to see up to about 225,000 spectators per day in the Japanese capital if all ticket holders attend.

With the organizers set to draw up a plan this month on what to do regarding domestic spectators, Hidemasa Nakamura, the committee’s games delivery officer, suggested the risk of having spectators could be limited, given that the number of ticket holders set to enter venues is estimated to be smaller than those visiting or commuting to the capital.

Speaking at a press conference, Nakamura said 70 percent of the tickets for events taking place in Tokyo and neighboring Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures have been sold to people living in those areas.

The Japanese organizers and the International Olympic Committee have waited to decide on venue capacity for spectators in Japan after barring fans from overseas. However, medical experts have expressed concern that allowing fans could lead to the spread of the coronavirus as people travel to and from the venues.

On Friday, infectious disease expert Shigeru Omi, Japan’s top COVID-19 adviser who has been critical of staging the Tokyo Games, told a parliamentary committee he will assess the risk of allowing spectators.

Omi, who heads a government subcommittee on the coronavirus, said the public will most likely be asked to follow anti-virus mitigation steps, including refraining from traveling to other prefectures, during the Olympics as they coincide with summer vacation.

With about 40 days to go before the Olympics opening ceremony, Tokyo has been under a state of emergency since late April to bring down the number of infections. Omi has said he plans to put together recommendations on staging the Olympics by June 20, the final day of the emergency.

Separately on Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said a vaccination center will be set up at the metropolitan government building to inoculate officials and workers related to the Olympics.

About 2,500 shots will be administered per day starting June 18 to referees and staff working at games facilities including the athletes’ village, Koike said.

The center will use Pfizer Inc. vaccine doses provided by the IOC for Japanese athletes and officials related to the games.

A top medical organization in Japan has thrown its weight behind calls to cancel the Tokyo Olympics, saying hospitals are already overwhelmed as the country battles a spike in coronavirus infections less than three months from the start of the Summer Games.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, dated May 14 and posted online on Monday, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association said hospitals in the host city “have their hands full and have almost no spare capacity”.

“We strongly request that the authorities convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that holding the Olympics is difficult and obtain its decision to cancel the Games,” the letter said.

The association, which represents about 6,000 primary care doctors, made the appeal amid a jump in infections that has resulted in a shortage of hospital beds in some parts of the Japanese capital and stoked alarm across the country.

Suga on Friday extended a third state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures until May 31.

But the prime minister said that holding a “safe and secure” Olympic games was possible if tight preventive measures were implemented, including actions that would keep ordinary Japanese from coming into contact with those arriving in connection with the Games.

A majority of the Japanese public, however, oppose hosting the Olympics this year.

A weekend poll by the Asahi Shimbun daily found that 43 percent of people surveyed want the Games cancelled, while 40 percent want a further postponement.

Those figures are up from the 35 percent who backed cancellation in a survey by the paper a month ago and the 34 percent who wanted a further delay.

Meanwhile, an online petition with more than 350,000 signatures calling for the Tokyo Games to be cancelled was also submitted Friday to local organizers, the IOC and others.

The Tokyo Medical Practitioner’s Association, in its letter, said medical institutions dealing with COVID-19 would soon face the added difficulty of dealing with heat exhaustion in patients during the summer months.

And if the Olympics contributed to a rise in deaths, it said, “Japan will bear the maximum responsibility.”

Other health experts and medical groups have voiced their concerns over the Olympics, with Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura – an adviser to the government’s pandemic response – urging authorities in April to postpone the Olympics for a further year to allow more time to vaccinate the public.

Overall, Japan has avoided an explosive spread of the virus experienced by other nations, with 11,500 deaths recorded since the pandemic began.

But the government has come under sharp criticism for its sluggish vaccination rollout. So far, only about 3.5 percent of its population of about 126 million has received at least one vaccine shot.

Underscoring the challenges with the vaccinations, booking systems for mass inoculation sites being launched in Tokyo and Osaka – which started accepting bookings on Monday – were marred by technical glitches.

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