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Tokyo eliminates the stages of the Olympic torch relay in the capital

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Tokyo eliminates the stages of the Olympic torch relay in the capital

The celebratory cauldron is lit on the first day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay in Naraha, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on March 25, 2021. REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon / Pool

The Olympic torch relay has been scrapped on Tokyo’s public roads, officials announced Wednesday, as concerns about the virus continue to plague the games just over two weeks before they start.

The latest setback comes just one day before the head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, arrives in Japan for the postponed mega-event.

And with coronavirus infections on the rise again in Japan, the government is expected to extend restrictions this week that will likely affect how many fans, if any, can attend games.

The Olympic flame arrives in Tokyo on Friday, but private torch lighting ceremonies will replace the relay in the capital to prevent crowds from gathering to watch, the city government said.

Until the opening ceremony on July 23, the torch ceremonies will be streamed online, and authorities urge viewers to view them “in the comfort of their home.”

Only the relay stage in the Ogasawara Islands, a remote archipelago about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Tokyo, will take place in public as scheduled.

The national torch relay has been plagued with problems since it began in March, with nearly half of the stages interrupted in some way.

The relay was forced off public roads in famous resort cities such as Kyoto and Hiroshima for fear that crowds of fans could spread the virus.

And it has also encountered some public opposition, with a 53-year-old woman arrested Sunday for throwing liquid from a squirt gun into a corridor.

Tokyo 2020 was delayed a year by the pandemic and will take place under strict anti-infection rules, with foreign fans banned and local viewers limited.

Participants have already started arriving in Japan, with 11,000 Olympians from around 200 countries ready to participate.

Bach, who will remain in isolation for three days upon arrival, was initially expected to visit Tokyo in May, but that trip was canceled due to virus restrictions.

Fan limits

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. (

FILE – Australian torch flag 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 (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI). / AFP)

Organizers set a cap last month of 10,000 fans, or half the capacity of each venue, but recently warned that fully closed-door Games remain an option as the virus situation worsens.

The COVID-19 outbreak in Japan has not been as severe as in some countries, with around 14,800 deaths, but experts say another wave could stretch medical services as the Games begin.

The government is expected to extend anti-virus measures in Tokyo and other regions this week, likely until after the Games start, with a new ruling on Olympic fans.

Current restrictions limit spectators at non-Olympic sporting events to 5,000 and limit the opening hours of bars and restaurants.

Media reports say fans are likely to be banned from the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, and events that take place in the evening are also held behind closed doors.

Announcement of the results of an oversubscribed event ticket lottery has already been delayed until Saturday, less than two weeks before the opening ceremony.

And even ticketless events are affected, with the public urged not to line up on the Olympic marathon route in the northern city of Sapporo.

The Japanese team held a stripped down and socially estranged farewell ceremony on Tuesday, in which nearly all 582 athletes participated online.

But star gymnast Kohei Uchimura seemed disappointed by the event, complaining that it felt “a little unsatisfying.”

“I’ve done a lot of online interviews recently so I’m used to it,” he told reporters.

“But doing a formal ceremony online feels a bit unsatisfying.”

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