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Japan will ban spectators from Paralympic venues in and around Tokyo, except some school children

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TOKYO - Japan will ban spectators from Paralympic venues in and around Tokyo due to the spread of coronavirus, organizers announced Monday, as it once more opens the country to athletes from around the world to compete in largely empty stadiums.

The Paralympic Games will begin on Aug. 24, just a few weeks after the conclusion of the Olympic Games, which also were held without spectators at the vast majority of venues. A state of emergency declaration is in effect in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures for the rest of August, and likely until the end of the Paralympics in early September.

"I very much regret this situation has impacted the Paralympic Games following the Olympic Games," Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, said at a news conference Monday evening. "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 that request to attend, and are located nearby the Games venues - a decision that organizers hope would 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 covid 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 covid risks for athletes with disabilities.

Makoto Shimoaraiso, a Japanese government official guiding the country's pandemic response, warned in a briefing on Monday about the rise in severely ill covid 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.

Published : August 17, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Michelle Ye Hee Lee