Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have agreed to hold the Games without spectators, after Japan declared a coronavirus state of emergency for the capital that will run throughout the event.
The widely expected move was made following talks between the government, Tokyo organisers and Olympic and Paralympic representatives.
It was "regrettable" that the Games were going to be held in a limited format, Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto told a briefing, adding her apologies to those who had bought tickets.
Japan had initially planned to allow venues to be filled up to 50 per cent of capacity but with no more than 10,000 fans.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was essential to prevent Tokyo, where the highly infectious Delta COVID-19 variant was spreading, from becoming the source of another wave of infections.
The ban all but robs the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8, of their last hope for pomp and public spectacle.
Once seen as a chance for Japan to stand large on the global stage after a devastating earthquake a decade ago, the showpiece event was delayed by the pandemic last year and has been hit by massive budget overruns.
Medical experts have said for weeks that having no spectators would be the least risky option, amid widespread public fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.
Shortly after International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach arrived in Japan for the Tokyo Games on Thursday, Prime Minister Suga's government announced the state of emergency measure in response to increasing numbers of coronavirus infections.
The fourth state of emergency for Tokyo in the wake of rising numbers of infections, which would span the July 23-August 8 period of the Olympics, will be in effect from Monday and replace a current and less strict quasi state of emergency.
The state of emergency is not a lockdown with hard curfews as in other countries and is to provisionally run until August 22, the government said.
While citizens are called upon to stay at home if possible, restaurants are open but not allowed to serve alcohol, offer karaoke and have to close earlier than normal in the evening.
The Japanese have been asked to rather enjoy the Olympics from home, and also to travel less during the upcoming summer holidays.
Tokyo authorities on Thursday reported 896 new cases, the 19th day in a row that the figure was higher than that from the previous week.
Meanwhile, Bach arrived at Haneda airport on Thursday to oversee the final countdown.
There are various meetings in the run-up, including the IOC Session where Brisbane is expected to be elected host of the 2032 Olympics.
- with Reuters