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Olympic torch festivities dimmed because of Covid-19 fears

Plans to send 140 children to Greece where the flame is kindled have been scrapped.

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People wearing masks walk past the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium in Tokyo (Jae C. Hong/AP)

People wearing masks walk past the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium in Tokyo (Jae C. Hong/AP)

People wearing masks walk past the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium in Tokyo (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Tokyo organisers have downsized the arrival ceremony for the Olympic torch because of the spreading Covid-19.

Organising committee president Yoshiro Mori said Friday that 140 children will not be sent to Greece to give the flame a send off on March 19, a day before it is due to arrive in Japan.

“It’s a gut-wrenching decision not to be able to let them perform,” Mr Mori said, speaking in Japanese.

The Olympic torch will be kindled on March 12 in a ceremony in Greece and then flown to Japan.

It is to land in Miyagi at a Japan Air Self-Defence base in the northern part of the country.

Olympic Flame rehearsal
The Olympic Flame is lit by an actress dressed as the High Priestess, using a parabolic mirror to reflect the rays of the sun, during a rehearsal for the London flame ceremony in Greece (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Mr Mori said the the changes forced by the spreading virus “make me feel even more strongly about not losing the fight”.

“Of course we are worried,” he added.

“But the government is doing its utmost to battle the situation, and scientists are fighting against the challenges.

“I believe in the power of human beings and the efforts from around the world.

“But that doesn’t mean will just wait and hope.”

Mr Mori referred obliquely to changes being made.

The IOC says the 2020 Games will go on as planned, but others have speculated about postponing, cancelling, moving events or changing cities, or even holding an Olympics without fans.

“The Tokyo Olympics should be held even if parts of it have to be modified,” Mr Mori said.

“But it does not mean we will scale it down.”

The four-month torch relay around Japan begins on March 26 from Fukushima prefecture, located about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo.

It is to end on July 24 at the new 1.43 billion US dollar national stadium in Tokyo.

Mr Mori did not discuss any other changes to the relay.

Olympics Tokyo What’s Ahead
The New National Stadium, a venue for the opening and closing ceremonies at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, is seen from Shibuya Sky observation deck (Jae C. Hong/AP)

He was asked about the opening on July 24 and ruled out any postponement.

The International Olympic Committee and local organisers have repeated over and over that the Olympics will open as scheduled.

The Paralympics are set to begin on August 25.

Virologists, however, say it’s impossible to tell if the spreading virus will allow that to happen.

Twelve deaths in Japan have been attributed to the virus.

China is reporting more than 3,000 deaths from the virus, and still has more than 80% of the world cases, though outbreaks are surging in Italy, Iran and South Korea.

PA