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COVID-19 Case Surge Forces Olympic Torch Relay Off Tokyo’s Public Streets


Pedestrians wearing protective masks, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, walk in front of the National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan, July 7, 2021.

Tokyo’s metropolitan government announced Wednesday that it will move the iconic Olympic torch relay off the city’s public roads due to rising numbers of new COVID-19 cases in the Japanese capital.

Relay runners will instead carry the torch out of public view to private torch-lighting ceremonies across Tokyo after the Olympic symbol arrives Friday. The only planned public torch lighting event will take place on a group of small islands off the coast of Tokyo.

In a related development, the Olympics organizing committee says it will request the public not gather on the streets to witness the marathon races when they are staged in the final days of the Games.

The latest restrictions involving the upcoming Tokyo Olympics come as organizers and government officials consider plans to limit the number of spectators at the July 23 opening ceremonies to just a handful of dignitaries and Olympic officials.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported Tuesday the idea is part of a larger plan that would also include banning visitors from attending events at large venues and at night.

The last Olympic torch relay runner for the Osaka leg concludes the event in Suita, north of Osaka, western Japan, April 14, 2021.
The last Olympic torch relay runner for the Osaka leg concludes the event in Suita, north of Osaka, western Japan, April 14, 2021.

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics announced back on June 21 that it would allow just 10,000 people, or 50% of a venue’s capacity, at all events, despite health experts advising the government that banning all spectators was the “least risky” option for holding the Games.

The Asahi Shimbun reported the revised changes to the number of spectators allowed would be negotiated between the government and officials with the International Olympic Committee.

Tokyo and several other prefectures were initially placed under a state of emergency in April due to a surge of new COVID-19 infections in the Japanese capital and across the country. The surge prompted staunch public opposition against staging the Olympics, especially among a prominent group of medical professionals that urged Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to call off the Games.

The prefectures transitioned last month from the state of emergency into “quasi-emergency” measures that are set to expire on July 11, just 12 days before the Olympics opening ceremonies. But the government is expected to extend the quasi-emergency after a meeting on Thursday, with a decision about the Olympics to follow.

Prime Minister Suga has previously said he would not rule out banning all spectators from attending the Olympics if the situation takes a turn for the worse.

Foreign spectators have already been banned from attending the event.

The Tokyo Olympics are set to take place after a one-year postponement as the novel coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the globe.

This report includes information from AFP and Reuters

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