TOKYO – Two more prefectures outside the immediate Tokyo area have decided to bar fans from attending Olympic events because of rising coronavirus infections, Tokyo Olympic organizers confirmed on Saturday with the pandemic-delayed games opening in just under two weeks.
Tokyo organizers and the IOC earlier in the week barred all fans from venues in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures. They make up the overwhelming majority of Olympic venues, although a smattering of outlying areas were allowed initially to have limited attendance.
All fans from abroad were banned months ago.
Now, two prefectures that were permitted to have fans have backed out of those plans.
Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan has decided to hold its baseball and softball events without spectators. It has been joined by the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, which will hold soccer games without fans at the Sapporo Dome.
“Many people including children have been looking forward to the games, and I'm very sorry to take away their chance of watching baseball and softball at the stadium,” Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori said Saturday. “It was a very tough decision to make.”
Fukushima was the early focus of the Olympics, trying to shine a light on recovery efforts in an area devastated in 2011 by an earthquake, tsunami, and the subsequent meltdown of three nuclear reactors.
Uchibori said the move by Hokkaido on Friday encouraged him to follow suit. He said it was important to have consistency among prefectures.
A few other events being held in the outlying prefectures of Miyagi, Shizuoka and Ibaraki will go ahead with limited spectators, organizers said Saturday.
IOC President Thomas Bach probably didn't notice, but on Saturday about 40 people staged a small anti-Olympic protest outside the five-star hotel where he is self-isolating after arriving in Tokyo on Thursday.
“He (Bach) seems not to have thought anything about our critical situation and suffering, which makes me more angry,” protester Ayako Yoshida said.
Polls have shown between 50-80% of Japanese oppose holding the Olympics, depending on how the question is phrased. But opponents have failed to martial large turnouts in the streets.
Protesters carried a sign in English that read “Cancel the Tokyo Olympics” and one that had a red line drawn through the face of Bach and was captioned: “You Are Not Welcome.”
Tokyo registered 950 new infections on Saturday, the 21st straight day that infections were higher than a week previous. It was the highest since 1,010 were reported on May 13.
Japan has attributed about 15,000 deaths to COVID-19 with 16.8% of the population fully vaccinated. The pandemic has not been as severe in Japan as other places, but the country has not performed as well as some of its Asian neighbors.
Infections are popping up as thousands of athletes and officials start entering Japan with the opening ceremony set for July 23.
Organizers on Saturday said 18 people holding Olympic accreditations have tested positive since July 1. Most are listed as “residents of Japan." Organizers include few details in the list, which they say is to protect privacy.
Only two of the 18 are listed as “non-residents of Japan.” Most are listed as “contractors" working for Tokyo 2020. One member of the “media” is included. Three cases are listed as “games-connected personnel.”
Organizers say the list does not include all positive tests. Athletes who may have tested positive in training camp situations may not be included.
A Lithuanian Olympic swimmer who arrived Wednesday and tested negative subsequently tested positive at his training camp venue. On Saturday, he tested negative at a local hospital in Hiratsuka City near Tokyo, the city said.
About 11,000 Olympic athletes are to enter Tokyo along with tens of thousands of support staff, judges, officials, media, and broadcasters. The Paralympics involve 4,400 athletes and open on Aug. 24.
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AP reporters Kantaro Komiya, Mari Yamaguchi, and Kwiyeon Ha contributed to this report.