• Kyodo


The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Tuesday it would also take the Olympic torch relay off public roads in the second half of the 15-day leg passing through the capital due to a resurgence of coronavirus infections.

With the decision, which follows a similar one made earlier on the first half, the Tokyo relay leg, set to begin Friday, will be held without roadside spectators in almost all areas except small islands, as uncertainty grows over how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the Olympics that are set to open in roughly two weeks.

About 1,300 people will not be able to run on public roads. Instead, the games organizing committee and the metropolitan government will organize torch-lighting ceremonies for the runners to connect the flame in places such as parks.

On Tuesday, Tokyo reported 593 new cases of the virus, exceeding the number logged a week earlier for the 17th straight day.

The metropolitan government last week said the relay will be pulled off roads, excluding Tokyo's small islands, for the first eight days. It will hold an event on Friday morning to celebrate the arrival of the flame.

"I've been training to prepare for my turn, but I guess it can't be helped," said Hideo Sato, a 79-year-old who was scheduled to participate in the relay on July 18. "It is no fun to have just a ceremony, but I think I will still participate."

Despite repeated insistence by organizers that they will hold a "safe and secure" games amid the pandemic, the recent rebound has fanned skepticism among people in Japan about going ahead with the Olympics.

In a related development, the organizing committee said it has decided to ask the general public not to gather along the roadside to watch Olympic marathons and race walk events in Sapporo between Aug. 5 and Aug. 8, the final day of the games.

The committee said it agreed at a meeting attended by officials of Sapporo and Hokkaido that it will be necessary to restrict the movement of people to minimize the risk of infections.

While the organizers want to stage the Olympic marathons without spectators, it remains unclear what they will do with people who have already purchased tickets to watch other events at venues in Tokyo and other areas.

In the wake of potentially another wave of infections in Tokyo, driven by highly contagious variants of the virus, the organizers are expected to review the spectator cap agreed on late last month, which allows venues to be filled to 50% of capacity with a maximum of 10,000 people.

The current ceiling was set in line with the government's policy on spectator limits for major events and on the premise that Tokyo will no longer be under a quasi-state of emergency beyond its last day next Sunday.

The government is now leaning toward keeping the quasi-state of emergency covering the Tokyo metropolitan area in place during the Olympics.

The nationwide torch relay started in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima in late March. It was initially scheduled to involve 10,000 runners carrying the flame on public roads in all Japan's 47 prefectures in an effort to build enthusiasm for the games.

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