Paralympics: Most spectators to be barred from Games, Tokyo Governor confirms

TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) – The four parties concerned with running the Tokyo Paralympics agreed on Monday (Aug 16) that the Games will be held generally without spectators, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters.

She also said that municipalities and schools will still be able to have schoolchildren attend events as long as proper Covid-19 safety measures are implemented.

The Paralympics are due to run from Aug 24 to Sept 5 and some teams are already at training camps, as Japan battles record infections despite stiff measures in several parts of the country.

The Games come with Japan facing a new wave of virus cases and states of emergency in place in six regions.

“More stringent measures will be taken for competitions to be held in these prefectures, including no spectators,” the Tokyo 2020 organisers said in a joint statement with local and national governments and the International Paralympic Committee.

The decision had been widely expected, and follows the same measures in place for the Olympics, which ended on Aug 8.

Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto apologised for the move, calling on people to watch the Games at home and avoid attending road events.

“We sincerely apologise to all ticket holders who were looking forward to watching (the Games) at the venues, but please understand that it was unavoidable to implement these measures to prevent the spread of infection,” she said.

Japan’s government has insisted the Paralympics will be held safely, and that it remains committed to hosting them, but it is under growing pressure over the virus.

Just 37 per cent of Japan’s population is fully vaccinated, after a slow start to the vaccine roll-out.

The pace has recently picked up considerably, and the government says all adults who want a vaccine will be able to have one by the autumn.

But the Delta variant has outpaced the vaccination programme, as in many other places, and the emergency measures in place increasingly appear insufficient to curb the spread of infection.

Around 4,400 athletes are expected to take part, and like their Olympic counterparts they will face daily testing and restrictions on their movement. Despite the surge in virus cases in Japan during the Olympics, Games officials said there was no evidence of a link to the massive sporting event.

The Olympic organisers have reported 540 positive cases among athletes, officials and media, most of them among Japan-based employees and contractors.

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Another three people have tested positive within 14 days of leaving Japan, all of them from the media.

And at least 31 people associated with the Paralympic Games have tested positive so far, with other cases reported among teams that arrived early to train.

IPC chief Andrew Parsons warned last week that participants should not let down their guard.

On Sunday, the Paralympic organisers opened a repair centre for prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs and other equipment in the athletes’ village ahead of next week’s start.

They said about 100 staff will provide repair and maintenance services at the centre as well as in booths at 14 competition venues. Services will include tyre replacements and welding repairs on wheelchairs.

The service team includes three technicians from German artificial limb maker Ottobock, which is operating the repair and maintenance centre in the Paralympic village.

Heinrich Popow, a German Paralympic gold medallist who is affiliated with Ottobock, said the centre provides Paralympic athletes with technical as well as mental support.

“Friendships develop from the close cooperation between technicians and athletes, which inspires courage during the competitions,” said Popow, who won gold medals in the London 2012 100m T42 and the Rio 2016 long jump T42.

T42 is a classification for athletes who have an above-the-knee amputation or comparable impairment.

The Paralympics will include swimming, table tennis, wheelchair fencing and basketball.

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