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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Japan plan allows Olympic visitors entry, but with a catch

Ticket holders would face ban on visiting certain districts

A boat sails past the 2020 Olympic rings in Tokyo. The games were postponed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.   © Getty Images

TOKYO -- Seeking a way to host the Olympics games in 2021 without igniting an outbreak of coronavirus infections, Japan is considering a plan to allow foreign athletes and spectators into the country, but under strict restrictions such as on where they can go, Nikkei has learned.

The government should move forward with a plan to take in the foreign arrivals for the Summer Games, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told cabinet officials at a meeting Friday.

"Effective measures need to be carried out in areas such as the prevention of outbreaks among tourists and people involved in the games, the response by local government authorities, testing methods and maintaining our health care system," Suga said.

The government has held coronavirus task force meetings with the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Olympic organizing committee in anticipation of holding the Olympics in summer of 2021 after this year's games were postponed because of the pandemic.

The parties agreed that an exception will be made for athletes that come from countries and regions that are subject to Japan's entry ban. Athletes will have to provide negative test results, as well as submit written itineraries as conditions for entry.

Task force officials discussed ways to prevent clusters of infections from forming in the Olympic Village and tournament venues, including setting limits on using shared spaces. The task force is expected indicate plans to grant border exemptions to members of the press and foreign Olympic staff during the next meeting to be held later this month at the earliest.

The task force will discuss the medical response in the event an infection among Olympians.

Suga will relate the preparations when he meets with Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, who will arrive in Tokyo next month. The prime minister will outline the domestic coronavirus situation as well as efforts to relax restrictions on entering venues.

"We are working currently on the basis that, of course, there will be international spectators," Bach said on Oct. 7.

There will be about 15,000 athletes participating in the Olympics. When other authorized personnel are included, the number could rise to 70,000 or 80,000 people. The volume of foreign arrivals will rise dramatically if spectators are added to the mix.

The government hopes to reap economic benefits from hosting the games, but infections are surging again in the U.S. and Europe and the cost to health could be severe. A proven vaccine has yet to be developed, and a wave of international tourists could lead to an infection spike in Japan as well.

"No decision can be made unless we monitor the disease situation from the start of next year," said a senior Japanese government official, who cited next spring as the preferred deadline to issue the final call.

In that event, only foreign tourists that come to view the Olympics will be allowed in. Tourists arriving for other purposes will be refused entry. The government will explore ways to verify that whether foreign tourists obtained tickets to watch the Olympics.

Arrivals undergo coronavirus tests at the Narita and Haneda airports serving Tokyo, and Kansai International Airport in Osaka. The daily capacity is enough to test 10,000 people.

Next month, testing stations will open at airports serving Sapporo, Nagoya and Fukuoka, doubling the testing capacity. But the expansion does not appear to be enough to accommodate an inflow of Olympic watchers.

Another sticking point will be keeping tabs on the movement of foreign guests. Athletes are already restricted to the Olympic villages, tournament venues and practice grounds. They are generally not allowed to use public transportation.

Foreign tourists and staff will likely face rules that will narrow travel options. They could be barred from walking around business districts, for example.

The government is considering having foreign arrivals sign forms declaring that they would follow directions from authorities during their stay. These written oaths would be signed before leaving their home countries.

"Malicious activities could result in deportation under immigration law," said a senior Cabinet Secretariat official.

Policymakers are looking at adopting private-sector technology as a means of making sure the testing of foreigners will not impact testing among Japanese. Mass testing of samples taken at residences will be an option as well. These issues have started to be discussed between relevant government agencies.

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