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Tokyo Paralympics may feature tens of thousands of schoolchildren in stands

TOKYO -- Plans are afoot to allow tens of thousands of schoolchildren to attend the Tokyo Paralympics despite the coronavirus delta variant spreading among teenagers and those even younger who are not vaccinated.

The Paralympics open Tuesday and run through Sept. 5. All other fans have been banned as they were for the Olympics. About 4,400 athletes are expected from about 160 countries and territories.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has said she is pressing ahead to allow schoolchildren to attend the Paralympics, as long a parents and schools are supportive. News reports say the number of students involved is between 130,000 and 140,000.

Tokyo is under a state of emergency through Sept. 12.

About 40% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated. Tokyo reported 5,074 new cases on Saturday. It marked the first time the capital has logged more than 5,000 cases for four consecutive days. Daily new cases have increased sharply since the Olympics opened on July 23.

Tokyo reported 4,392 new cases on Sunday. Japan has attributed about 15,500 deaths to COVID-19.

Hospital capacity in Tokyo has become so tight that those not deemed ill enough for hospital admission are getting oxygen supplied at home or at makeshift facilities set up for emergencies.

The Tokyo organizing committee and the International Paralympic Committee also back the plan for student fans. They argue it's important to have students view athletes with disabilities, which could change attitudes in a relatively conservative society like Japan.

"This generation is the one that will sustain our society in the future, and so we are absolutely passionate about providing this opportunity," Tokyo organizing committee spokesman Masa Takaya said Sunday.

In an interview a few days ago, IPC president Andrew Parsons said he supported the plan -- with a caveat.

"We endorse the initiative because we believe it is an important element of legacy by bringing schoolkids to the games," Parsons said. "But of course, it is imperative these kids must come to the games in a safe way."

Opposition is coming from the Japanese government's top medical adviser. Dr. Shigeru Omi told a parliamentary session a few days ago that the current COVID-19 situation "compared to before the Olympics is significantly worse.

"If you think what it means to allow audience, the decision is quite obvious," Omi added.

Omi said Tokyo's high rate of positive tests exceeding 20% suggests that infections are more widely spread than the number of daily cases reported.

In Shizuoka, located about 100 miles southwest of Tokyo, all 93 schools have canceled their planned participation because of the state of emergency taking effect in the area that began Aug. 20, according the Mainichi newspaper.