Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks to media in front of the Olympics mascots at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Thursday, July 1, 2021. Suga was still uncertain whether fans can be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics because of growing concern about rising COVID-19 cases on Thursday only three weeks before the games.(Kyodo News via AP)

3 weeks before games, Japan still unsure about spectators

TOKYO (AP) — Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was still uncertain whether fans can be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics because of growing concern about rising COVID-19 cases on Thursday only three weeks before the games.

Cases in Tokyo have been steadily on the rise, triggering fears the games would accelerate the spread of the coronavirus. Experts warn the highly contagious delta strain could trigger rapid resurgence of the infections that may require another state of emergency even during the games starting on July 23.

“I have made clear that having no spectators is a possibility,” Suga said as he noted Tokyo’s rising caseloads. “We will take steps as we prioritize safety and security of the people.”

Tokyo on Wednesday confirmed 673 new cases, the 12th straight day of a week-on-week increase.

Dr. Mitsuo Kaku, a medical advisor for the Tokyo metropolitan government, told a weekly meeting on Thursday that Tokyo is turning into a “critical situation” as the upsurge is triggered by the delta variant.

A two-month-long state of emergency in Tokyo and other metro areas was downgraded by Suga on June 21 to less-stringent measures that focus on shortened hours for bars and restaurants until July 11.

He said he will decide what to do with the measures next week, a decision that will affect games spectators.

Organizers last week decided to allow up to 10,000 spectators or 50% of venue capacity if emergency measures are lifted before the games. Following criticisms and concerns raised by experts and the public, government officials later said they are open to having no fans if the infections worsen.

Experts say lifting the measures is unthinkable given the virus situation, and daily cases could exceed 1,000 before the Olympics and quickly multiply during the games if measures are delayed.

Suga said a decision on spectators will have to be made by a meeting with four other involved parties: The organizing committee, Tokyo, the International Olympic, and Paralympic Committees. A five-party meeting would be after his decision on any emergency measures next week, but he did not say when.

Other senior lawmakers of Suga’s ruling coalition also started to suggest an option of having no spectators. Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of Komeito, a smaller coalition partner of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, on Thursday called on the government “to consider a no-spectator option and promptly inform the public.”

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Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press