• Kyodo


As the current state of emergency is set to be extended beyond its end date of May 31, the Tokyo Olympic torch relay is likely to be taken off public roads in Hokkaido, whose largest city, Sapporo, is the venue for the marathon and race walking events, officials said.

The nationwide relay's segment in Hokkaido is scheduled for June 13 to 14. The island has been under a state of emergency since mid-May after repeatedly seeing record daily numbers of COVID-19 infections.

Given that the emergency is expected to be extended, officials said the Hokkaido government plans to cancel the two-day relay on public roads in 18 municipalities and will discuss the matter with the Tokyo Games organizing body.

Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki told reporters Wednesday it will be "difficult to carry out the event on public roads if the emergency is extended."

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and a slew of other prefectural leaders on Wednesday called on the central government to extend its COVID-19 state of emergency in place in nearly a dozen prefectures as infections have yet to subside with just two months until the capital hosts the Summer Olympics.

The emergency is likely to be extended until June 20, government sources said, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga set to make a formal decision Friday.

The state of emergency, which entails banning restaurants from serving alcohol and telling them to close by 8 p.m. among other restrictions, is currently in effect in Tokyo and nine prefectures that account for half of Japan's economy and a little more than 40% of its population.

Koike said Wednesday conditions have not improved enough to lift the measure, telling an expert panel that "while the daily number of new coronavirus cases is declining, it remains at a high level and the situation is still severe."

The extension should be about one month, she later told reporters after holding a virtual conference with her counterparts in neighboring Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa.

Chiba Prefecture is also considering taking its three-day relay from July 1 off public roads in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

Chiba, which will stage eight sports events during the Olympics and Paralympics, will be the 44th of the country's 47 prefectures for the flame to visit. The relay in Tokyo is scheduled to begin July 9.

The nationwide relay kicked off in Fukushima Prefecture on March 25, but the event has been scaled down in a number of areas due to a resurgence of infections, with the Japanese government and other organizers have been struggling to turn public opinion in favor of opening the Tokyo Olympics on July 23.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, speaking at a meeting of its executive board Wednesday, said it is important to share more information with the public.

"Preparations to hold a safe and secure games have steadily been progressing, but it is necessary to step up efforts to have the people of Tokyo and the country realize that," she said, while reiterating that the organizers will take all possible measures to stage a "successful" Olympics and Paralympics.

Last week, John Coates, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, said the games will open even if the capital remains under the emergency, a comment that has sparked strong public reactions.

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