• Kyodo

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The Tokyo segment of the Olympic torch relay started with a small-scale ceremony on Friday, a day after organizers decided to stage the games without spectators at almost all venues due to a surge in coronavirus infections.

Two weeks before the opening of the Olympics, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike marked the start of the 15-day section of the relay, most of which was taken off of public roads as the Japanese capital struggles with spiking COVID-19 infections.

"Due to the impact of the novel coronavirus, it was sometimes impossible to carry the flame on public roads. But by overcoming the difficult situation with strong wishes of everyone across the country and various means, it has been connected to this point as a way of hope," Koike said from a stage set up on the athletics track at Komazawa Olympic Park.

"I'd like (torchbearers in Tokyo) to put their respective feelings into the flame and surely connect it to the Olympic stadium," she said.

Despite wet conditions and the ceremony being held behind closed doors, about 100 people gathered around the arena in an attempt to get a glimpse of the flame that has traversed 46 of the country's 47 prefectures since the nationwide relay began in late March.

The relay started its time in Tokyo just a day after the government decided to impose a state of emergency on the metropolis for a period including the duration of the games.

Taking effect Monday, the emergency declaration is aimed at containing a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections.

More than 100 runners were initially scheduled to carry the torch on Friday in Setagaya Ward and three cities in the western suburbs of the capital's central area. They will now participate in a flame-lighting event without spectators in Machida.

The relay started in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima in late March, but many segments were removed from public roads to stop groups of spectators from congregating.

In Tokyo, the flame was scheduled to pass world-famous tourist areas and landmarks, including the 634-meter Tokyo Skytree tower, the busy Shibuya scramble crossing and the Roppongi district, a popular nightlife spot, before entering the National Stadium during the Olympic opening ceremony on July 23.

The Japanese organizers of the Olympics had originally hoped the 121-day torch relay featuring some 10,000 torchbearers would help build enthusiasm amid public opposition to holding the Olympics this summer, but sentiment has not shifted appreciably.

The Olympic flame was lit at a ceremony without spectators in Greece and arrived in Japan on March 20, 2020, just four days before the Tokyo Games were pushed back for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since earlier this month, athletes and team staff from around the world have started arriving in Japan en masse for pre-games training camps held in municipalities across the country.

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