Tokyo’s public roads will not see the Olympic torch relay, said officials on Wednesday, as Covid-19 concerns continue to plague the Games just over two weeks before they begin.
Private flame-lighting ceremonies will replace public relay events across the capital beginning Friday, said the Tokyo city government.
Right up to the opening ceremony on 23 July, the torch events will be streamed online, with authorities urging spectators to watch them “in the comfort of your home”.
Only the relay leg in the Ogasawara islands — a remote archipelago some 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) south of Tokyo — will go ahead as scheduled.
The nationwide torch relay has been fraught with problems since it began in March, with almost half the legs disrupted in some way.
The relay was forced off public roads in famous tourist cities such as Kyoto and Hiroshima over fears that crowds of fans could spread the virus.
And it has also met with some public opposition, with a 53-year-old woman arrested on Sunday for squirting a runner with liquid from a water gun.
Olympic organisers have yet to settle on how many domestic fans can attend the postponed Games and have warned that events could be held behind closed doors.
Overseas fans have already been barred.
The government is this week expected to extend anti-virus measures in Tokyo and elsewhere, with a decision on Olympic fans to follow.
‘TV only event’
The pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics are shaping up as a TV-only event with few spectators — if any — being allowed when they open.
Japan’s Asahi newspaper, citing multiple unidentified government sources, said Tuesday the opening ceremony at the 68,000-seat National Stadium is likely to be limited to only VIP guests.
The newspaper said other large venues are likely to have no spectators. Smaller venues are expected to allow some spectators.
Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee are expected to announce the policy after a meeting likely on Thursday.
Two weeks ago, they announced that venues could be filled up to 50% capacity with a ceiling of 10,000. But surging virus numbers in Tokyo are forcing a rollback.
The IOC earns almost 75% of its income from TV rights, and will still generate $3 billion to $4 billion in income from a television-only event.
Fans from abroad were banned months ago.
Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, has said the least risky Olympics would be with no spectators. He also said it was “abnormal” to hold the Olympics during a pandemic.
Asahi said the no-spectators policy could apply to events that take place after 9 p.m. and to larger venues where 50% of capacity exceeds 5,000.
VIPS, sponsors and others dignitaries will be allowed to attend the opening ceremony and other venues, but the newspaper said these numbers could also be reduced. The newspaper said this “special category” was about 10,000 people.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 593 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the 17th straight day that cases were higher than they were a week earlier. On Saturday, the capital reported 716 new cases, the highest in five weeks.
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