Tokyo Olympic venues won't have spectators

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 3:39 PM ET, Thu July 8, 2021
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10:10 a.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Here's what we know about the Olympic bubble and why doctors are warning it might not be airtight

From CNN's Selina Wang

A woman drives an electric scooter in front of the New National Stadium, the main stadium for the Tokyo Olympics, on June 3 in Tokyo.
A woman drives an electric scooter in front of the New National Stadium, the main stadium for the Tokyo Olympics, on June 3 in Tokyo. Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

Organizers insist the Olympics can be held in a safe bubble: athletes will be regularly tested, contact traced and socially distanced. By the time the Games start, officials expect more than 80% of athletes to be vaccinated.

But public health experts say there are many ways for the bubble to be punctured, especially if tens of thousands of largely unvaccinated and untested volunteers are moving between Olympic venues.

"Even without spectators, it's not a bubble. There are too many leaks in it," said epidemiologist Mike Toole from the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

"Having these 70,000 volunteers out in the community, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, then going into the Games – where you have around 20% unvaccinated – then you're looking at a high-risk scenario," he said.

The third and final Olympic Playbook of Covid-19 measures says some "sport specific" volunteers will be tested regularly at the Games, without specifying how many that would include.

Opposition to the Games: Warnings from Japan's medical community continue to grow. The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, an organization representing 6,000 doctors in Tokyo, wrote a letter calling for the Games to be canceled.

"The most important priority now is to fight against COVID-19 and to secure people's lives and livelihoods," the letter said. "Japan will bear a big responsibility if the hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games contributes to the spread of COVID-19 and increases the number of sufferers and deaths."

The head of Japan's Covid-19 taskforce, Shigeru Omi, said in June it's "not normal" to host the Olympics during the pandemic, warning the Games would have an impact on infections in Japan.

10:11 a.m. ET, July 8, 2021

It's the fourth state of emergency in Tokyo since the pandemic began

The latest state of emergency imposed in Tokyo is the fourth in the Japanese capital since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Tokyo lifted its previous round of state of emergency on June 20, at the end of the country's fourth wave of infections. It has continued to impose restrictions under a softer "quasi-emergency," such as an 8 p.m. curfew on dine-in service at restaurants. But cases have been rising again, prompting health experts to call for stricter measures.

10:07 a.m. ET, July 8, 2021

At least 10,000 Olympic volunteers have quit over concerns about Covid-19

From CNN's Selina Wang

When the Tokyo Olympics put out a call for volunteers, Nima Esnaashari signed up along with thousands of others in Japan eager to soak up the atmosphere of the world's biggest sporting event.

But the closer the Games get, the more anxious he's becoming about the risk of catching Covid-19. Like the majority of Japan's population, he hasn't been vaccinated and doesn't know if he'll receive a dose before the pandemic-delayed Games begin on July 23.

Games organizers plan to vaccinate 18,000 Olympic workers, including referees, staff, doping testers and some volunteers. But with some 70,000 volunteers, there won't be enough to go around. It is not clear how many of the volunteers will get a dose.

Of the 80,000 people who signed up to help at the Games, at least 10,000 have quit, mostly due to the pandemic. Esnaashari is still not sure if he'll pull out.

"If I was to go without being vaccinated, in the back of my mind I would be thinking 'am I going to get corona today, or is it going to be tomorrow?'" Esnaashari said.

Tokyo organizers say the recent withdrawal of around 10,000 volunteers in Japan won't impact operations because of other Covid-19 restrictions, including a ban on spectators meaning fewer overall numbers at the Games.

Volunteers say they've been given little protection against Covid-19 beyond cloth masks, hand sanitizer and pamphlets instructing them to keep others at a safe 2-meter distance. The Olympic website encourages volunteers to take public transportation between their homes and Olympic venues.

Doctors are warning of the risks of having so many unvaccinated people moving in and out of the Olympic village. They fear the Olympics could push Japan's already overstretched medical system to the brink.

10:08 a.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Tokyo recorded 920 new infections on Wednesday, the highest since mid-May

A Pegasus Corporation cleaner disinfects the floor of the "red zone" of the Covid-19 ward at St. Marianna University Kawasaki Municipal Tama Hospital outside of Tokyo on June 15.
A Pegasus Corporation cleaner disinfects the floor of the "red zone" of the Covid-19 ward at St. Marianna University Kawasaki Municipal Tama Hospital outside of Tokyo on June 15. Yuki Iwamura/AFP/Getty Images

The decision to ban spectators at all Tokyo venues for the 2020 Olympics came as the Japanese capital reported 920 new infections on Wednesday, the highest daily caseload since the middle of May.

"There is a remarkable increase of infections, especially in the big cities in the Tokyo area," said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of Japan's pandemic response. The more infectious Delta variant now accounts for up to 30% of cases, he added.

10:05 a.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Tokyo's state of emergency from July 12 to Aug. 22 runs through all 16 days of the Olympics

The new state of emergency for Tokyo will run from July 12 to Aug. 22 — covering the 16 days of the Summer Games in its entirety.

"The number of infected cases in the area including Tokyo has been increasing since the end of last month," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said earlier on Thursday.

"The number of severe cases and bed occupancy rate continues to be on the low level, but considering the impact of variants, we need to enhance countermeasures so that the infection will not spread nationwide," Suga added.

The state of emergency is the fourth in the Japanese capital since the pandemic began.

9:37 a.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Strict Covid-19 protocols and positive tests have already derailed many Olympic dreams

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

After years of training, some Olympic athlete's dreams are already being derailed by Covid-19 before the games even start. Others are having to make hard decisions as authorities impose strict rules and protocols aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

Nick Suriano, a wrestler, took years off from college to prep first for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and then in 2021. A positive Covid-19 test forced him to miss the meet at which he would qualify. So he won't go.

Kim Gaucher, a Canadian basketball player, had to fight to bring her breastfeeding 3-month-old to the games after Japanese authorities imposed a no-friends-or-family rule to control Covid-19.

"Right now, I'm being forced to decide between being a breastfeeding mom or an Olympic athlete," Gaucher had said. "I can't have them both."

Japan is holding the Olympics despite warnings from many public health professionals that they should be postponed again or called off. It is enacting strict protocols that limit the number of athletes and coaches who can travel to Tokyo and has removed spectators.

Yet athletes have already tested positive after arriving in Japan. That includes a Serbian rower. 

Sports and the spread: There is already evidence that major sporting events do spread Covid. In Europe, the club soccer tournament being held in multiple cities, sometimes with tens of thousands of fans, has already demonstrated what can happen.

The tournament has been associated with an increase in cases in certain cities, according to reports from Reuters:

Scotland's health authority said 1,991 people had been identified as attending a Euro 2020 event while infectious, of whom 1,294 had travelled to London and 397 gone to Wembley where England played Scotland.

Finland said more than 300 nationals were infected while supporting their team.

"We need to look at how people get there: Are they traveling in large crowded convoys of buses? And when they leave the stadiums, are they going into crowded bars and pubs to watch the matches?" World Health Organization senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said in a statement. 

So it will be an Olympics without spectators — and without some of the best athletes.

10:11 a.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Events outside Tokyo are still being considered for spectators, Japan's Olympics Committee says

From Emiko Jozuka in Tokyo

A man walks past the Olympic Rings lit up at dusk in Yokohama on July 2.
A man walks past the Olympic Rings lit up at dusk in Yokohama on July 2. Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images

While spectators will be banned from Tokyo venues at the 2020 Olympic Games, events taking place outside of Tokyo, in areas not under a state of emergency, are still being considered for spectators, Japan's Olympics Committee said Thursday.

The announcement was made following a meeting of five Olympic and Japanese government groups responsible for the Games.

Japanese Olympic Committee head Seiko Hashimoto called it “a very heavy judgement,” adding that due to the state of the pandemic they have “no choice but to hold the Games in a limited way.”

There are total 42 venues listed on the Tokyo 2020 website. Twenty-five are in Tokyo and the rest 17 are in seven other prefectures.

9:34 a.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Tokyo governor says she wanted to share a "sense of crisis" ahead of Olympics meeting

From CNN's Emiko Jozuka

From left, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach attend the five-party meeting in Tokyo on July 8.
From left, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach attend the five-party meeting in Tokyo on July 8. Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier today, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told a group of Olympics officials set to review the decision spectators that her government wanted to share a “sense of crisis” with the central government and that the Tokyo government was making every effort to control the movement of people to prevent infection.

The governor added that her government wanted to vaccinate as many people involved in the games.

Some context: The pandemic-delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics will take place under a coronavirus state of emergency, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga confirmed Thursday.

Suga said he had decided to declare a new state of emergency for the capital from July 12 to Aug. 22 – covering the 16 days of the embattled Games in its entirety.

"The number of infected cases in the area including Tokyo has been increasing since the end of last month," Suga said. "The number of severe cases and bed occupancy rate continues to be on the low level, but considering the impact of variants, we need to enhance countermeasures so that the infection will not spread nationwide."
9:33 a.m. ET, July 8, 2021

JUST IN: Tokyo venues for Olympics will not have spectators

From CNN's Emiko Jozuka

The Olympic Rings are seen outside the Japan Olympic Museum on June 23 in Tokyo.
The Olympic Rings are seen outside the Japan Olympic Museum on June 23 in Tokyo. Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

Tokyo venues for summer Olympics will not have spectators.

Earlier today, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga confirmed the pandemic-delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics will take place under a coronavirus state of emergency.

The announcement was made following a meeting of five Olympic and Japanese government groups responsible for the Games.

Seiko Hashimoto with the Japanese Olympic Committee said, “A very heavy judgement was made.”

Hashimoto said due to the pandemic, they have “no choice but to hold the Games in a limited way.”