BY RYUSEI TAKAHASHI, STAFF WRITER
Opportunities for domestic sports fans to watch live coverage of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games together around Japan are growing scarce, with some locations that were initially planned to host screenings of the games set to be repurposed as COVID-19 vaccination sites or shuttered altogether out of fears such gatherings could lead to cluster infections.
With the country in the midst of its third state of emergency — which includes restrictions on the hosting of large events — promotional activities for domestic fans have become a gamble some prefectures are no longer willing to take.
Before the Tokyo Games were postponed by one year in March 2020, organizers had planned more than 30 public promotional events across 12 municipalities.
But on Monday, Saitama Gov. Motohiro Ono announced that the two public viewing events that were going to be held in the prefecture during the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be canceled due to concerns over the nation’s ongoing fourth COVID-19 wave.
“I would have liked to create a place for everyone to share their joy and excitement, but I’m afraid that’s not possible in the current situation,” Ono said.
While Kanagawa Prefecture has yet to ax plans to host two public viewing events, Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa said during a news conference Monday that holding them would be “difficult.”
“We would like to monitor the situation before deciding whether to hold them,” he added, noting that their cancellation was being considered.
Earlier this month, Ibaraki Prefecture announced it would cancel a live screening event that was set to be hosted at the prefectural government building, and would instead focus on efforts to get a vaccination site at the building up and running.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government had planned to hold five promotional events but, owing to pandemic concerns, those will be reduced to two.
Musashino, a city located in western Tokyo where a screening was slated to be held, submitted a request Friday to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to cancel the event due to worries over the virus.
Another public screening site that was to be set up in Yoyogi Park will be put on hold, and the location used as a vaccination site for police and fire department staff, among others, to receive their second doses in late June or early July.
Those staff began receiving their first doses Tuesday at the former site of Tsukiji market, which will be used as a parking lot during the games.
While fans from abroad have been barred from attending the games, it still hasn’t been decided how many domestic spectators will be allowed. That decision will be made in late June, but media reports, organizers and public officials have hinted that half of all domestic ticket holders will be allowed to attend competitive events in person.
Prior to a number of reimbursements in December, the Tokyo Organising Committee had sold 900,000 tickets overseas and more than 3.6 million in Japan.
As recently as May, public polls showed that more than 80% believed the games couldn’t be held safely, and that they should be postponed or canceled altogether.
In the weeks since, however, the acceleration and expansion of the country’s vaccine campaign seems to have softened concerns about the games for some.
In a TBS poll published Monday, roughly 55% called for the games to be postponed or canceled, while just 44% said the games should be held.
Respondents were more closely split in a survey released the same day by Yomiuri Shimbun, in which half the respondents said the games should go on while 48% said they should be canceled.
Strong remarks made last week by the central government’s foremost infectious disease expert have also made headlines.
“Normally the games wouldn’t be held under these circumstances,” said Shigeru Omi, chair of the government’s coronavirus subcommittee, earlier this month, adding that officials “need to provide an explanation to the public as to why the games are being held under these circumstances.”