The Tokyo Olympic torch relay will not run through the streets of Osaka prefecture next week because of rising COVID-19 cases

Davies

The celebration cauldron is lit on day one of the torch relay

The Tokyo Olympic torch relay will not run through the streets of Osaka prefecture next week because of rising COVID-19 cases.

Key points:

  • The Governor of Japan’s second-biggest city, Osaka, has declared a medical emergency amid rising cases of COVID-19
  • The Olympic torch relay is due to pass through Osaka prefecture on April 13-14, but public events have now been cancelled
  • Torch runners who wish to run will now gather in an Osaka park, with no spectators allowed

The move is a setback for Tokyo organisers, who began the relay two weeks ago from northeastern Fukushima prefecture with 10,000 runners planning to crisscross Japan over the course of four months.

The Olympics open in just over 100 days, on July 23.

In a last-minute change of plans, organisers said in a statement on Wednesday that runners and the torch will be involved in some event in an Osaka city park on the days when the relay was to cross the entire prefecture. That was to be 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 statement said the Osaka segment would be conducted in the park “for all torchbearers who wish to run there.”

It also said “no spectators” would be admitted either day.

The news followed the declaration of a “medical emergency” in Japan’s second-biggest city, as cases of coronavirus rise.

A governor speaks into a microphone next to a sign in red that says 'medical emergency' in Japanese.A governor speaks into a microphone next to a sign in red that says 'medical emergency' in Japanese.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura says the health care system in his prefecture is under strain due to COVID-19.(

Osaka prefecture Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura issued the special warning.

“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.”

About 70 per cent of hospital beds available in Osaka have already been occupied, officials said.

Yoshimura said he plans to issue an emergency request for residents of Osaka prefecture to avoid nonessential outings beginning on Thursday.

Osaka reported 878 new cases on Wednesday, more than 555 in Tokyo, the national capital.

The ordeal of keeping the relay on track points to the giant problems that are likely when the Olympics and Paralympics take place with a total of 15,400 athletes from more than 200 countries entering Japan. They will be joined by tens of thousands of other officials, judges, media and broadcasters.

Fans from abroad are banned, and it is not yet clear how many local fans will be able to attend Olympic events. Tokyo organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto promised a decision this month on venue capacity, but hinted last week that the announcement could be delayed.

Ticket sales were to account for $US800 million ($1.05 billion) in revenue for the organisers, a large chunk but small compared to the official bill for the Olympics of $US15.4 billion ($20.24 billion), most of which falls on Japanese taxpayers.

The vaccine rollout is extremely slow in Japan with very few people expected to be vaccinated when the Olympics begin. Japan has attributed about 9,300 deaths to COVID-19, which is good by world standards but poor by the standards in most Asian countries.

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