Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the Olympic Games would continue under a coronavirus state of emergency that bans spectators from all Tokyo-based venues. The arenas in surrounding Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba will also be inaccessible to fans.
"Taking into consideration the impact of the delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures," Suga noted.
The Olympics run from July 23 to August 8, and the capital's state of emergency is scheduled for July 23 to August 22, lifting before the Paralympic Games open on August 24. Olympic and Tokyo officials said spectator capacity for the Paralympics would depend on future nationwide infection rates.
The ban deals a significant blow to Olympic organizers expecting $800 million in ticket sales, and to the Japanese government, which spent $15.4 billion on the games.
Meanwhile, the SEA Games Federation announced Thursday this year's Southeast Asian Games has been postponed due to an increase of new infections in Vietnam, the host country. The regional games were scheduled to be held in the capital, Hanoi, and 11 other locations from November 21 to December 2.
The announcement coincides with a suspension of public passenger services in Hanoi and a two-week lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City that takes effect Friday.
Sporting events in Australia, including the Australian Grand Prix auto racing event, have also been affected by the pandemic. Organizers announced Tuesday they are canceling the Formula One race for the second consecutive year because of Australia's strict travel and quarantine mandates, while the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, which was scheduled for October, has also been scrapped for a second year.
As the world surpassed 4 million coronavirus-related deaths, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that millions more remain at risk "if the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire."
The head of the global body said in a written statement that most of the world is "still in the shadows" due to the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine between the world's richest and poorest nations and the rapid global spread of the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19.
Guterres called for the creation of an emergency task force, composed of vaccine-producing nations, the World Health Organization and global financial institutions, to implement a global vaccine plan that will at least double production of COVID-19 shots and ensure equitable distribution through the COVAX global vaccine sharing initiative.
"Vaccine equity is the greatest immediate moral test of our times," Guterres said, which he also called a "practical necessity."
"Until everyone is vaccinated, everyone is under threat," he added.
The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center on Thursday reported 4,005,889 COVID-19 deaths out of 185.3 million total confirmed cases.
The World Health Organization is urging nations to proceed with "extreme caution" as they ease or altogether end lockdowns and other restrictions in the face of a steady rise of new infections due to the delta variant.
Dr. Mike Ryan, the agency's head of health emergencies program, told reporters Wednesday in Geneva that countries are making "a false assumption" that transmission rates will not increase because of high vaccination rates.
"The idea that everyone is protected and it's Kumbaya and everything is back to normal I think right now is a very dangerous assumption anywhere in the world," Ryan said, according to CNBC.
In a similar vein, an open letter signed by hundreds of scientists published in the Lancet medical journal denounced British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to lift most of the country's coronavirus restrictions on July 19, a date the prime minister has dubbed "Freedom Day."
The letter called the government's reopening plans "unethical" and "dangerous" because it involves acceptance of a high level of new infections. Britain is now averaging more than 25,000 new infections over a seven-day period due to the delta variant, but hospitalizations are in the hundreds and the average number of fatalities per day has remained in the low double digits due to the country's high vaccination rate.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has acknowledged that the rate of new infections could climb to as many as 100,000 a day after July 19, when mandates such as social distancing and mask wearing will expire.
This report includes information from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.