April 1, 2021 at 12:30 JST
Azusa Iwashimizu, surrounded by other members of the 2011 women's World Cup team, leaves J-Village in Fukushima Prefecture as the first torch bearer of the 121-day-long Olympic torch relay on March 25. (Pool)
Japan’s Nagano prefecture barred spectators from parts of the Olympic torch relay on Thursday to prevent large groups from gathering after its capital city raised its COVID-19 alert level following a recent rise in infections.
No spectators will be present when the last relay runner of the day brings in the torch and lights the Olympic cauldron in Nagano City, the prefecture said.
Spectators would also be barred from a section of road in Nagano City that was expected to attract large numbers of people, while the city’s elderly and those with underlying conditions were urged to avoid watching from roadsides.
Tokyo Olympics organizers are already requiring roadside spectators to wear masks, practice social distancing and not cheer out loud to prevent the spread of the virus.
The additional measures underscore the lengths to which authorities are going to organize a safe torch relay and assuage public concerns, with surveys showing most Japanese oppose holding the Games this summer due to the pandemic.
The relay began last week in Fukushima and is being seen as the first major test of the Games in holding a large-scale event while implementing stringent health protocols.
Around 10,000 runners will carry the torch through the country’s 47 prefectures over 121 days.
Although Japan has been affected by the pandemic less severely than the United States and Europe, its vaccination campaign is off to a slow start while some prefectures are seeing an uptick in new infections.
Olympic organizers last month decided to bar international spectators from the Games, and this month are due to decide on the maximum capacity for spectators in venues.
The Olympics, postponed by a year because of the pandemic, are scheduled for July 23 to Aug. 8 and the Paralympics from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.
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