Osaka – The Olympic torch relay scheduled for the city of Osaka has been canceled due to a massive spike in COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters Thursday evening.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said earlier in the day that the section of the torch relay to be held in the city of Osaka later this month should be suspended because of the sharp rebound in coronavirus infections.
The comments regarding the nationwide relay that began in Fukushima Prefecture a week ago come as the government plans to have Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures take stricter measures against the virus.
The Osaka governor said he needs to ask that residents refrain from going out once the central government agrees to the western city implementing tougher anti-COVID-19 measures under a revised law that took effect in February.
Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui had also said the relay scheduled for April 14, the second and final day it will be in the prefecture, should not take place, and that a ceremony would be held without spectators.
Still, Yoshimura said that segments in other Osaka municipalities could still be held by implementing strict anti-virus steps.
The Olympic flame for the Tokyo Games, which were postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to travel to all of the nation’s 47 prefectures. The 121-day event started in Fukushima Prefecture on March 25.
The Olympic organizing committee has put in place various virus countermeasures for the relay, including encouraging people to follow the event using live online broadcasts. Roadside spectators have been asked to wear masks and keep a safe distance from others to prevent the spread of the virus.
However, some sections of the relay have been heavily crowded, even though the committee has said segments may be skipped if too many people show up to watch the event.
Osaka has seen an increase in COVID-19 infections since a state of emergency was lifted for the prefecture a month ago. On Thursday, it reported 616 new cases, confirming over 600 new cases for the first time since Jan. 16.
The revised law allows the designation of semiemergency status to municipalities affected by a rapid increase in numbers of new infections.
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