Updated, with comment from NBC Sports: Japan’s Olympic Games will proceed without spectators due to a surge in new Covid cases, Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa announced today. A state of emergency had already been declared in Tokyo and is expected to continue throughout the Games.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the state of emergency will run at least until Aug. 22 (the Games run July 23 through Aug. 8). “Taking into consideration the effect of coronavirus variants and not to let the infections spread again to the rest of the nation, we need to strengthen our countermeasures,” the prime minister said.
According to the BBC, Japan’s most recent wave of infections began in April, and the country has experienced a total death toll of around 14,900.
NBCUniversal will air programming from the 2021 Olympic Games across its broadcast, cable and digital properties.
A spokesperson for NBC Sports said, “We’re disappointed that there won’t be spectators at the events, but we’ve long had plans for enhancing the viewing experience across our many platforms. We’ve had a lot of experience with events without spectators throughout the pandemic. Although unfortunate, this won’t diminish the incredible stories and achievements of the athletes from Team USA and around the world.”
The network already has been preparing for a far different Games than any other, first with the postponement from last year and then with restrictions on international visitors, and then with venues limited to 50% of capacity and crowds not to exceed 10,000. The latest announcement will mean that the Games will largely be seen on TV.
TV viewers already have become accustomed to events in empty stadiums or, as was the case with the Super Bowl, events with a greatly reduced capacity. Part of the coverage of the Olympics has been on the crowds, particularly during the opening and closing ceremonies, where spectators have taken part in some of the showier theatrics.
There already had been some calls for the Olympics to be canceled outright, given the rise in Covid cases in Tokyo, but Olympics and government officials had been adamant about pushing forward with the event.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.