Organizers of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics have imposed restrictions on the few Japanese spectators who will be allowed inside the venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Under rules announced Wednesday, domestic spectators are forbidden from cheering or waving towels, approaching athletes for autographs, or talking with other spectators, and will be asked to go straight home when the event is over.
Foreign spectators have been banned from attending the event.
Alcohol sales have also been banned in the venues during the Games.
The restrictions follow Monday’s decision to cap the number of spectators at 10,000 people, or 50% of a venue’s capacity, despite advice from health experts that banning all spectators was the “least risky” option for holding the Games in light of a surge in new COVID-19 infections in the Japanese capital and across the country.
The decision to allow spectators dovetails with authorities changing Tokyo and eight other prefectures from a nearly two-month-long state of emergency to “quasi-emergency” measures that took effect Sunday. The looser restrictions would remain in place until July 11, 12 days before the start of the Olympic Games.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has warned he would not rule out banning all spectators from attending the Olympics if the COVID-19 situation worsens.
The initial state of emergency was declared in April and extended in late May. The surge prompted staunch public opposition to staging the Olympics, especially among a prominent group of medical professionals that urged Suga to call off the Games.
The Tokyo Olympics are set to take place after a one-year postponement as the novel coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the globe.
New outbreak in Sydney
A new COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney has prompted suspension of a “travel bubble” between Australia and New Zealand and new restrictions in both countries.
New Zealand has suspended direct quarantine-free visits with Australia’s southern New South Wales state until Sunday after a visitor from its capital, Sydney, tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home earlier this week. The traveler visited New Zealand’s national Te Papa museum in the capital, Wellington, as well as a number of restaurants, pubs and other tourist spots.
Authorities in New Zealand on Wednesday also limited gatherings to fewer than 100 people until Sunday, and imposed physical distancing requirements in the Wellington region.
The infected traveler was linked to the outbreak of the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus that has now grown to 31 people in Sydney, including 16 new confirmed infections announced Wednesday. The new outbreak has been traced to a Sydney airport limousine driver who had been transporting international air crews.
Authorities in Sydney have barred residents in seven neighborhoods from traveling outside the city except for essential tasks, while limiting homes to just five visitors and imposing mandatory masks for all indoor venues, including gyms and offices. Several neighboring states such as Victoria and Queensland have placed restrictions on travelers from Sydney and surrounding areas, while South Australia closed its borders altogether.
Australia and New Zealand have been largely successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 due to aggressive lockdown efforts, but both nations are vulnerable to fresh outbreaks due to slow vaccination campaigns.
Crisis at Houston hospital
In the United States, more than 150 health care workers at a Texas hospital resigned or were fired Tuesday after refusing to comply with the hospital’s mandate to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Houston Methodist became the first major hospital system in the U.S. to impose a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy for its employees on April 1. But 178 employees were suspended on June 7 after rejecting the mandate, citing the fact that the vaccines have only gotten emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
A lawsuit filed against Houston Methodist by several of the suspended employees was dismissed by a U.S. federal judge earlier this month. The suspended employees were given an additional two weeks to get vaccinated, with at least 25 of them finally complying.