The Tokyo Olympics that most of the Japanese population doesn’t want to happen are almost certainly going forward this month. But the world’s best athletes will be running, jumping, and swimming for a crowd of nobody. On Thursday, amid a spike in coronavirus cases, Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga declared that a COVID state of emergency would take effect in the Tokyo region on Monday and last throughout the Olympic games, which begin on July 23 after being postponed by a year. This means that strict pandemic measures will be enforced around the area, including rules prohibiting spectators at sporting events. After the announcement was made, Japan’s Olympics minister said that organizers had agreed to hold the Games with no fans. Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto told reporters that the move was “regrettable” and offered an apology to those who had bought tickets.
Previously, Japan had said that some domestic spectators would be allowed in, prompting a backlash from those who worried about COVID spreading via spectators. Japan hasn’t been as hard-hit by COVID as many Western countries, recording 14,800 deaths so far, compared to more than 600,000 in the United States. But the country has struggled to tamp down the pandemic in recent months, with various states of emergency being declared around the country, then rescinded. The 920 cases recorded in Tokyo Wednesday were the most since April. And, crucially, the country has lagged on vaccinations, with only about one-fifth of the population inoculated with one dose.