The Japanese Government has today (Wednesday) announced that it plans to permit up to 10,000 spectators for major events in prefectures in which it has lifted a COVID-19 state of emergency, a rule that is likely to apply for the forthcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of COVID-19 response, said the proposed measure will come into effect once the state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of Japan ends on June 20. It is expected to run through to the end of August.

“It is important that we maintain thorough anti-infection measures to prevent a rebound in cases, especially as we foresee a spread of the Delta variant,” Nishimura told a government advisory panel which endorsed the plan, according to the AFP news agency.

Under current guidelines that are due to run through to the end of June, major events in prefectures that exit a state of emergency are allowed a maximum of 5,000 people or 50% of venue capacity, whichever number is greater. This in theory would allow for 34,000 fans at the 68,000-capacity National Stadium (pictured), the venue for athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies of Tokyo 2020.

However, Japanese news agency Kyodo said the current rules are worrying officials in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration, who believe they could allow too many people to gather and present a risk of the virus spreading.

The new rules limiting venues to 50% capacity or 10,000 spectators, whichever is smaller, will also apply to areas where a quasi-state of emergency has been lifted. Suga is set to finalise the decision at a task force meeting tomorrow, with the Government set to confirm an official attendance plan for the Olympics and Paralympics later this month.

Earlier this month, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto dismissed calls for a postponement of this summer’s Games as she promised they would “100%” go ahead, but possibly without spectators. The statement came after Japan’s chief medical advisor, Shigeru Omi, described the prospect of holding the Games in the current climate as “not normal”.

In April, organisers of the rescheduled 2020 Games in Tokyo confirmed that a final decision on domestic fan attendance would be made in June, just weeks before the start of events. It was announced in March that overseas spectators would not be permitted to attend, but the situation for those in Japan is still uncertain. The rescheduled Olympics are due to take place from July 23 to August 8, with the Paralympics to follow from August 24 to September 5.

Tokyo 2020 had initially pledged to deliver a basic policy regarding maximum venue capacity by the end of April, but the rise in the number of COVID-19 infections in the capital and other major urban areas complicated this decision.

Currently, 10 prefectures – Hokkaido, Tokyo, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka and Okinawa – are under a state of emergency. Kyodo said the Government is leaning towards ending the restrictions on Sunday as scheduled in all areas except for Okinawa, where hospitals continue to be under pressure from the number of COVID-19 patients.

Some prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, are expected to move to a quasi-state of emergency, which will allow governors to target specific areas rather than entire prefectures.

Japan has reported more than 772,000 COVID-19 cases and over 14,000 deaths, a relatively high number when compared to other east Asian nations. Its vaccination programme also compares unfavourably to other major economies, with just over 5% of the population fully inoculated to date.

Image: Scott Kouchi/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size