By Tyler Aquilina
March 20, 2021 at 11:22 AM EDT
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The Olympics will go on — but with a smaller audience than usual. The organizers of the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo announced Saturday that spectators from overseas will not be allowed to attend, due to the risks of COVID-19.

The Olympics were previously delayed from their planned 2020 date as a result of the pandemic, and are currently scheduled to run July 24 through Aug. 9, 2021. The Paralympics are slated for Aug. 25-Sep. 6.

"In many ways the Tokyo 2020 Games will be completely different to any previous Games. However, the essential of the Games will remain unchanged, as athletes give their utmost and inspire the world with transcendent performances," Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo's organizing committee, said in a statement. "We are currently working on specific plans to share support remotely from around the world and help bring people together in ways suited to our current times. Even if you are no longer able to come to Japan this summer, we hope very much that you will continue to support the Tokyo 2020 Games."

Tickets purchased by overseas residents will be refunded, the organizers added.

"We share the disappointment of all enthusiastic Olympic fans from around the world, and of course the families and friends of the athletes, who were planning to come to the Games," International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said in a statement. "For this I am truly sorry. We know that this is a great sacrifice for everybody. We have said from the very beginning of this pandemic that it will require sacrifices."

"But we have also said that the first principle is safety," he added. "Every decision has to respect the principle of safety first. I know that our Japanese partners and friends did not reach this conclusion lightly."

The IOC has also released several COVID safety guidelines for the Games, requiring face masks for athletes and officials, regular COVID testing, and the avoidance of physical contact. Spectators are also encouraged to "support athletes by clapping and not singing or chanting."

As of Saturday, more than 122.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide since the pandemic began, according to The New York Times. Japan has had about 455,000 cases in total, far below the U.S. and most European countries, and is currently averaging about 1,500 new cases per day. However, vaccinations are proceeding relatively slowly in the country, and much of the population is unlikely to be inoculated in time for the Olympics.

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