If you were planning to fly to Japan to attend the Olympics, love the optimism! But most likely, your plans have been spoiled because we are, in fact, still in a global pandemic. While the final ruling has not yet been announced, the paper Mainichi reported today that a source close to the Japanese government confirmed that foreign spectators will not be allowed to attend.
In a press conference, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee Seiko Hashimoto told reporters that the decision will be announced by March 25th, but Hashimoto also primed potential foreign visitors for a no. “If the situation is tough and it would make the consumers concerned,” Hashimoto (as translated by the Associated Press) said, “that is a situation we need to avoid from happening.” The Olympics begin on July 23rd and the Paralympics commence August 24th. The games were already postponed from last summer due to, again, the global pandemic.
Japan allowing a mass influx of overseas travellers was probably never going to happen: last month, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee jointly released a handful of “playbooks” for international federations, members of the media, and athletes, but not yet tourists. A guide for federations asked that onlookers refrain from singing or cheering. “Physical interactions” should be kept to a minimum, and visitors would follow rigorous testing and contact tracing rules.
Japan has suffered a record-breaking surge through the winter, which researchers have linked to a tourism campaign. The country has been under a months-long state of emergency, which government officials seem likely to extend for Tokyo.
The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee was not immediately available for comment.
The Olympics, generally, are a bid to encourage tourism at a substantial cost to local governments and taxpayers, which becomes an inherently complicated prospect for Japan in the face of wildly fluctuating covid case numbers. In the beginning of December, Nikkei reported that the government anticipated a massive wave of international visitors, and the New York Times has reported that over two million tickets have been reserved for international attendees. During the surge in January, rumour circulated that the Olympics would be cancelled altogether, but this proved untrue.
And the global vaccine rollout still has a long way to go. According to Johns Hopkins, only an estimated 0.73% of the world’s population has been vaccinated — though data on the rollout remains incomplete and often those numbers do not reflect the number of people who have received both doses. While the wealthiest countries have a disproportionate supply of vaccines, Gibraltar, with the highest confirmed percentage of people fully vaccinated, still has only administered full doses to around 40% of its population. The U.S. rate stands at just below 8%.