By Junko Fujita
TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan is leaning towards allowing domestic spectators at the Tokyo Olympics despite the COVID-19 pandemic, media reported on Wednesday, with organisers planning to monitor the movements of foreign media to prevent spread of the virus.
More Japanese government officials and 2020 Tokyo Olympics organisers are in favour of holding the Games with local spectators as COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out and case numbers decline, the Asahi newspaper reported, without citing sources.
This is in contrast with their position about a month ago when there was an atmosphere among Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration that the Games, starting July 23, needed to be held without spectators, the report said.
The prime minister’s office declined to comment, while Tokyo Olympic organisers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Foreign spectators are already prohibited from the Olympics and organisers will finalise plans for spectators before the end of this month.
The Summer Games have encountered strong opposition from the public and medical experts over concerns the event could lead to more infections and overload medical facilities, even with assurances from Suga’s administration they can be held safely.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Wednesday echoed Suga’s administration, saying some athletes she has met are “so excited to be able to participate in the Games” despite some of the most difficult circumstances ever seen for a modern Olympics.
However, the same day, the Australian baseball team pulled out of the final qualifying tournament for the Games due to “insurmountable” challenges amid the pandemic.
FOREIGN MEDIA MONITORING
The Olympics have been postponed by a year amid concerns over how organisers can keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe during a fourth COVID-19 wave.
In an effort to ease public concerns, Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto on Tuesday said overseas media will be closely monitored to ensure they do not leave pre-registered areas.
Foreign media will be monitored via GPS and will not be allowed to visit the houses of local friends or other unregistered areas, Hashimoto added.
Some Japanese doubted the effect of the measure, with commentators on social media saying reporters could just leave their smartphones at their hotels and travel anywhere they want.
Meanwhile, popular singer Yuzo Kayama became the latest celebrity withdrawing from the Olympics torch relay, saying he was not happy about holding the Games given current conditions around the world, Kyodo news reported.
Japan has been spared the explosive outbreaks seen elsewhere but has recorded over 760,000 cases and more than 13,600 deaths. Tokyo and other regions are still under a state of emergency which is set to be lifted on June 20.
(Additional reporting by Rikako Maruyama; Editing by Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast)