Because of an increase in COVID-19 events, the Tokyo Olympic torch relay will not pass through the streets of Osaka prefecture next week.
The decision is a setback for Tokyo organizers, who started the relay two weeks ago in northeastern Fukushima prefecture with 10,000 runners who planned to cross Japan in four months.
On July 23, the Olympics will begin in just over 100 days.
In a last-minute change of plans, organizers said in a statement on Wednesday that on the days when the relay was to cross the entire prefecture, runners and the torch will be involved in some event in an Osaka city park. That was supposed to happen on April 13-14.
“Given the circumstances, the Osaka prefectural authorities today requested Tokyo 2020 to hold the Osaka segment of the Olympic torch relay in Expo ’70 Commemorative Park rather than on public roads,” Tokyo organisers said in a statement.
The Osaka section, according to the announcement, will be held in the park “for all torchbearers who wish to run there.”
“No spectators” will be allowed on either day, according to the statement.
The news came after a “medical emergency” was declared in Japan’s second-largest city, as coronavirus cases increased.
Governor of Osaka Prefecture Hirofumi Yoshimura released a special alert.
“Medical systems (in Osaka) are on the verge of collapse,” Yoshimura said at a news conference, attributing the rapid spike in infections to new variants of the virus.
“Obviously it spreads more rapidly and it is more contagious.”
According to officials, about 70% of Osaka’s hospital beds have already been filled.
Beginning on Thursday, Yoshimura said he plans to release an emergency request for residents of Osaka prefecture to stop unnecessary outings.
On Wednesday, Osaka registered 878 new cases, compared to 555 in Tokyo, the nation’s capital.
The ordeal of keeping the relay on track foreshadows the massive issues that will inevitably arise when the Olympics and Paralympics are held in Japan, with a total of 15,400 athletes from over 200 countries expected to compete. Thousands of other politicians, judges, journalists, and broadcasters will accompany them.
Foreign fans are prohibited, and it is unclear how many local fans would be permitted to attend Olympic activities. President of the Tokyo Organizing Committee Seiko Hashimoto promised a decision on venue capacity this month, but suggested last week that it could be postponed.
Ticket sales were expected to bring in $US800 million ($1.05 billion) for the organizers, a significant sum but insignificant in comparison to the official Olympic bill of $US15.4 billion ($20.24 billion), the majority of which would be borne by Japanese taxpayers.
In Japan, vaccine distribution is incredibly sluggish, and only a small percentage of the population is predicted to be vaccinated by the time the Olympics begin. COVID-19 has been blamed for about 9,300 deaths in Japan, which is a good number by international standards but a low number by Asian standards.
Source: ABC World News