Japan, the host country of the Tokyo2020 Olympic Games next summer, has closed its borders to most foreign nationals after 5 new cases of the new UK-based coronavirus variant were detected in the country. The Japanese closure takes effect on December 28.
The variant, known as B.1.1.7, has set off alarm bells around the world after first being detected in the United Kingdom after scientists said that it could possibly spread more rapidly than other variants of the virus that has ground the world to a halt over the last year.
While the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines are expected to be effective against this new strain, countries around the world have raced to delay the spread of B.1.1.7 by re-closing their borders. Much of the world has now closed borders, or announced that they will close borders, to travelers from the UK, where the variant was first detected.
In lockstep with these new closures, Japan has suspended general ticket sales for the upcoming Emperor’s Cup soccer match that is scheduled for January 1, 2021 amid a rise in coronavirus cases. The event is significant to the Olympic movement because it is the official football (soccer) test event for the upcoming Olympic Games. The semi-final matches on Sunday and the finals next week are being held at the 60,000+ Olympic Stadium that was built to host the opening and closing ceremonies and track & field events at the Tokyo2020 Olympic Games, along with portions of events in other sports.
Tickets already sold for the event will still be valid, with 16,000 reportedly sold. Spectator numbers for sporting events in Japan will be capped at 5,000 for venues with capacities greater than 10,000.
Japan, due to its geographic proximity to China where the first outbreaks of the novel coronavirus were found, closed its borders and enacted strict measures early on to try and control the spread of the virus.
In spite of an aging population, Japan’s per capita death rate and infection rate from the coronavirus is one of the lowest in the developed world. The country has reported just over 213,000 case of coronavirus leading to 3,155 deaths across a population of 126.5 million people.
The country has reported about 1,691 cases per 1 million population and 25 deaths per 1 million population. That’s as compared to rates of 58,274-per-million infections and 1,023-per-million deaths in the United States, which has the highest-reported infection rates in the world among countries with a population greater than 11 million people.
The Toky 2020 Olympic Games are scheduled to take place from July 23-August 8, 2021. IOC president Thomas Bach said earlier this month that he was ‘very confident’ that the Olympics would go on in 2021. Upcoming test events after the Emperor’s Cup are the Boccia operational test from February 29-March 1, the Sport Climbing test event from March 6-8, and the artistic swimming test event at the Tokyo Aquatics Center from March 4-7.
Other aquatics test events are scheduled for April, including water polo from April 10-11, diving from April 18-23, and pool swimming from April 24-25. The Marathon Swimming test event was held in August of 2019.