The organizing committee of this summer's Tokyo Olympics may not make a final decision until as late as June on how many spectators will be allowed to enter games venues, its president suggested Wednesday, as Japan has been struggling with a resurgence of coronavirus infections.
Seiko Hashimoto said the Japanese organizing committee still wants to come up with a basic policy regarding maximum capacity by the end of April, in line with its original schedule.
Speaking at a press conference after attending a virtual meeting of the International Olympic Committee's executive board, Hashimoto indicated it is becoming difficult to draw a conclusion on the issue of domestic spectators at an early date.
She said it "may take a while to make an appropriate decision," given the need to closely monitor the situation of infections in the country and consult with health experts, as the number of new cases is surging again due to the rapid spread of more contagious variants of the virus.
The Japanese government plans to impose a fresh coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and two other prefectures with just three months until the Tokyo Olympics, officials with knowledge of the situation said Wednesday.
The organizing committee has been studying several possibilities, including holding the games without spectators and limiting the crowd to 50 percent of the venues' capacity, according to officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the plans have not been made public.
Taro Kono, minister in charge of Japan's COVID-19 vaccine rollout, said last week the games will be held in "whatever way is possible and that may mean there will possibly be no spectators."
In March, the committee and four organizing bodies of the Olympics and Paralympics made the unprecedented decision to bar overseas spectators as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
The five bodies, also including the International Paralympic Committee and the Tokyo metropolitan government, may hold an online meeting in late April to discuss the issue of domestic spectators.
As part of safety measures to be taken during the games, Hashimoto said the organizing committee plans to test athletes for the virus on a daily basis, in principle, instead of every four days as explained in the first edition of COVID-19 guidelines called the "playbook" released in February.
Since the Tokyo Olympics were postponed in March last year, the organizers have insisted that the Summer Games can be held by prioritizing safety.
However, they have scaled back the Japan leg of the torch relay in some areas due to health concerns over the pandemic, and opinion polls have shown that a large majority of people in the country are not in favor of the games going ahead this summer.
On Wednesday evening, over 20 torchbearers who were scheduled to run in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, passed the Olympic flame to each other at a small ceremony, as the nationwide relay was taken off of public roads in the western Japan city.
After receiving the flame, each walked a few steps to light the torch of the next person in line at a park without spectators. Torchbearers were unable to run at all for the first time since the relay started late last month.
The 121-day relay was expected to feature about 10,000 torchbearers carrying the flame in all of Japan's 47 prefectures before the games open on July 23. Each participant was scheduled to run a distance of about 200 meters.
Last week, torchbearers in Osaka Prefecture ran at an empty park after the organizers decided not to stage the event on public roads because of surging COVID-19 infections.