“I very much regret this situation has impacted the Paralympic Games following the Olympic Games,” Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo organizing committee, said at a news conference Monday. “We hope that you understand that these measures are unavoidable and being implemented in order to prevent the spread of infection. Everyone is encouraged to watch the Games at home.”
The only approved spectators will be children from schools who request to attend and are located near the venues — a decision that organizers hope will teach students about living in a more inclusive society but raises safety questions given the low vaccination rates among children and amid signs that children may be more susceptible to the delta variant.
Organizers said the school program may be canceled if infections drastically worsen. In the meantime, they said they wanted Japanese students to witness the achievements of Paralympians who overcame challenges posed by their disabilities and the pandemic.
“In the case of Paralympians, they have my greatest respect, so much so that children should directly experience how the Paralympians are performing, how they are trying. I think it’s the greatest education we can give,” said Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympian who represented Japan as a cyclist and speed skater.
The spectator ban was largely expected after the Olympic Games were held without fans in the vast majority of venues. The Olympics coincided with a rise in coronavirus cases that reached record levels in Tokyo and throughout Japan, even though Olympics-related positive cases largely held steady.
Organizers asked fans to refrain from gathering in large crowds on the street to watch cycling events in the roads or to take photos with the Olympic cauldron.
Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto added that organizers have heightened concerns about the coronavirus risks for athletes with disabilities.
Makoto Shimoaraiso, a Japanese government official guiding the country’s pandemic response, warned in a briefing Monday about the rise in severe covid-19 cases in Japan. He said the government hopes to see a dramatic reduction in the flow of foot traffic in congested areas of Tokyo and asked residents to get tested before traveling for their summer holidays this month.