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No crowd for Olympic torch relay in parts of host Tokyo

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Japanese torchbearer Ajia Arai (right) and Ito City Mayor Tatsuya Ono (left) hold a starting ceremony before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games torch relay in Ito, Shizuoka prefecture , on June 25, 2021 (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP).

Parts of the Olympic torch relay in host city Tokyo will be removed from public roads, authorities said Wednesday, in another setback from the virus for the flame as it travels through Japan.

The Olympic torch relay that will begin on July 9 in Tokyo will be displayed mainly in closed ceremonies during the first eight days of its stay in the capital, in line with countermeasures against the virus, the government official of Tokyo, Koichi Osakabe.

“Instead, we will have a ceremony each day at the final venue of the day’s (planned) relay races,” he said, adding that approximately 100 runners per day would be affected by the change.

Most of the change affects parts of the relay outside of Tokyo’s 23 central wards.

Osakabe said a decision would be made later on how to keep the sections in the most densely populated parts of the relay.

The flame will make its entrance into the Tokyo National Stadium on July 23, the opening of the Olympic Games, after traversing all 47 prefectures of Japan.

But he has regularly been forced off public roads due to concerns about the virus, and torchbearers have to settle for passing the flame from one to another in closed ceremonies at unique locations.

With the Games beginning a few weeks, the pandemic continues to cast a long shadow.

Australian torch bearers Shaun Ballinger (left) and Japan's Atsushi Kawaguchi (right) prepare to deliver the Olympic torch flame during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games torch relay in Gotemba, prefecture from Shizuoka on June 25, 2021. (

Torch bearers, Australia’s Shaun Ballinger (left) and Japan’s Atsushi Kawaguchi (right), prepare to deliver the Olympic torch flame during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games torch relay in Gotemba, Shizuoka prefecture, June 25, 2021 (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP). )

Tokyo and several other prefectures have canceled public viewing events for the Games, and Japan’s leading infectious disease experts have pushed for the event to take place behind closed doors.

Two members of Uganda’s Olympic delegation tested positive for the virus, prompting a rethinking of the rules for teams arriving early, according to local media.

An entire team may now be required to quarantine if a single member tests positive, and delegations could be ordered to eat silently, Yomiuri Shimbun reported Wednesday.

Japan has had a comparatively small virus outbreak, with just over 14,700 deaths despite avoiding severe lockdowns.

The government has recently accelerated vaccination efforts, with just over 10 percent of the population fully injected.

After the government lifted the virus state of emergency last month, Tokyo and six other areas remain under “near-emergency” measures until July 11.

But with the cases in Tokyo starting to rise again, media reports suggest those measures are likely to be extended further, possibly right up to the time of the games.

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