Tokyo to move part of torch relay off public roads

(Reuters) – Tokyo has decided to move the first half of the 15-day Olympic torch relay scheduled to take place in the capital off pubic roads, the metropolitan government said on Tuesday, as coronavirus infection numbers show signs of surging again.

The torch relay was due to reach the capital on July 9, passing mostly through the outer suburbs and islands before parading through the centre of the city from July 17 until the Games’ opening ceremony on July 23.

During the first eight days to July 18, torch-lighting ceremonies will be held without spectators and the relay will not be held on public roads, the metropolitan government said. Relays on the islands, however, will be kept on public roads.

The Tokyo government will decide soon on how to conduct the torch relay in the second half of the capital-city leg, while carefully watching the coronavirus situation.

Japan has not suffered the explosive outbreaks of the virus seen elsewhere, but it has only recently emerged from a fourth wave of infections.

A decline in the pace of new cases and a pick-up in the vaccination rollout prompted authorities to ease a state of emergency in Tokyo and eight other prefectures on June 20.

However, with the delayed Olympics looming, experts are worried about a renewed rise in cases in Tokyo and the spread of more highly transmissible variants. The Games also faces resistance from a substantial portion of the public.

“The number of infections nationwide is on a declining trend, settling down,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a news conference on Tuesday.

He added, however, that infection rates remained “somewhat high” in the capital of Tokyo and some other areas.

Tokyo recorded 476 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, marking the 10th consecutive day of week-on-week rises.

Japan has recorded more than 792,600 cases of the virus and more than 14,600 deaths. Just over 20% of the population has had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.