• Kyodo

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The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic torch relay on March 25 will be held without spectators to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, officials with knowledge of the planning said Tuesday.

The Tokyo Organising Committee has decided it is essential to hold the ceremony in Fukushima Prefecture behind closed doors, only permitting participants and invitees to take part in the event, to avoid large crowds forming amid the pandemic, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

After the ceremony at the J-Village soccer training center, about 10,000 runners will carry the flame through the nation’s 47 prefectures before the opening of the Olympics on July 23.

The training center served as a front-line base in the battle against the nuclear crisis that was triggered by the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami of March 11, 2011. It was selected as the starting point of the relay to showcase the Tohoku region’s recovery from the disasters.

Last month, the committee released a set of coronavirus countermeasures for the 121-day relay, which requested those who wish to watch the event to refrain from traveling to other prefectures and to maintain social distancing from other spectators.

In recent weeks, a number of celebrity torchbearers, who were expected to draw large crowds along the route, have opted out of the event, which was supposed to be held last year before the Olympics and Paralympics were postponed due to the global health crisis.

The organizing committee, headed by seven-time Olympian Seiko Hashimoto, has pledged to hold a safe games.

As the world has yet to contain the virus and concerns persist among the Japanese public over new coronavirus variants, Japan will most likely not allow overseas spectators to attend the Olympics and Paralympics, people familiar with the matter said last week.

The heads of the five organizing bodies, also including the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, are expected to hold a virtual meeting in mid-March to make a decision on the issue of overseas spectators.

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