The Tokyo Olympics torch relay will not be running through the streets of Osaka prefecture next week. This last-minute change of plans comes through due to a spike in COVID-19 cases across the city.
A statement that was released by organisers on Wednesday confirmed that runners and torch will be involved in some event in an Osaka city park when it was supposed to cross the entire city on April 13 or 14.
The organising committee was also quoted saying “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,”
Alternatively, the Osaka segment would be conducted in the park “for all torchbearers who wish to run there.” But that “no spectators” would be admitted either day.
This detour in the schedule will prove to be a setback for Tokyo organizers, who had begun the relay a fortnight ago from the northeastern Fukushima prefecture with 10,000 runners planning to crisscross Japan over the course of four months.
This last-minute change brings forth the problems that will surface when the Olympics take place with over 15,000 athletes and their staff from over 200 countries will arrive later this year. They will also be joined by tens of thousands of other officials, judges, media, and broadcasters.
Overseas fans are banned from games, and at this moment it is not yet clear how many local fans will be able to attend Olympic events. Tokyo organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto promised a decision on venue capacity in April but hinted last week that the announcement could be delayed.
Osaka prefecture Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura asked people on Wednesday not to make unnecessary trips in the area. About 70% of hospital beds available in Osaka have already been occupied. North Korea is already stepping down from participation in events due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of today, Japan has reported over 489,000 covid cases with almost 9500 deaths.