TOKYO: The Olympic torch relay will be barred from public roads across Japan’s Osaka region, the governor said yesterday, after a spike in virus cases there prompted officials to declare a medical emergency. A decision to keep the flame away from public view had already been taken for Osaka city, but yesterday’s announcement extends the measure to the entire prefecture. “Today, we decided to ask residents across the entire Osaka region to refrain from making non-essential and non-urgent outings, so we will cancel the torch relay on public roads in the prefecture,” regional governor Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters.
Tokyo 2020 organizers said yesterday they would instead “arrange for the Osaka segment of the relay to be run in the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park.” They said they would “implement all necessary measures to ensure a safe environment for all torchbearers who wish to run there, with no spectators being admitted.”
The Olympic flame began its nationwide relay on March 25 in Fukushima and is due to pass through the Osaka region on April 13 and 14. The relay launch ceremony was held without spectators because of virus concerns, and rules already require fans lining the route to wear masks and avoid cheering. Yoshimura said it would be “inappropriate” to hold it in the Osaka region on public roads as large numbers of onlookers could gather. “The torch relay tends to attract crowds because people want to see it, even if we take measures,” he said.
The decision came as the Osaka region declared a medical emergency, with rising infections putting local health facilities under increasing strain. It reported a new record 878 new infections yesterday and local residents are being asked to avoid non-essential outings. Osaka city is already under special anti-virus measures, including asking businesses to close early. Yoshimura had suggested last week that Osaka city’s relay leg might be cancelled, before a compromise was reached to keep the flame off public roads.
With a little over 100 days until the virus-postponed Games are due to open on July 23, Olympic officials are battling the logical issues tied to a new surge in cases. On Tuesday, Tokyo 2020 confirmed a water polo test event would be postponed because virus restrictions mean officials from abroad cannot enter the country.
And three qualifiers organized in Japan by the international swimming federation FINA are in doubt because of virus restrictions, with announcements on whether they will be moved due this week. Tokyo 2020 organizers have previously said legs of the torch relay could be cancelled if overcrowding occurs, but its CEO Toshiro Muto insisted the changes to the Osaka leg should not be considered a cancellation.
“I want people to understand that the Olympic flame relay will be carried out although its form is different,” he told reporters. “The Olympic flame relay has a significant meaning,” he added. “It is important to continue the Olympic flame relay by making a realistic response.” Muto said some 200 bearers were scheduled to run in the prefecture and they would all be invited to take part in the park ceremony. – AFP