A plane that was carrying the Olympic torch arrived on Japan's northwestern coast from Greece on Friday. But the welcome ceremony will be without any spectators amid the fears of the Games getting cancelled due to the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.
The flame that arrived at the Air Self-Defence Force's Matsushima base in Japan will go on a tour of the Tohoku region which was hit by tsunami and earthquakes, what the organisers are calling a 'recovery flame' tour till the time of the official kick-off ceremony in Fukushima on March 26.
Organisers reaffirm the occurrence of the Games
Organisers have repeatedly said the Games, set to run from July 24 to Aug. 9, will go ahead, but as the rapid spread of the virus brings the sports world to a virtual standstill, fears are growing that the Olympics may be postponed or cancelled. The respiratory disease, which emerged in China late last year, has killed more than 10,000 people worldwide.
Japan is grappling with pressure to avoid a health crisis among 600,000 expected overseas spectators and athletes at an event that could see $3 billion in sponsorships and at least $12 billion (10.35 billion pounds) spent on preparations evaporate. The plane with the torch arrived nearly empty after the Tokyo 2020 organising committee decided not to send a high-level delegation that was originally to have included its chief, Yoshiro Mori, and Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto.
Public have been urged not to come
The arrival ceremony at the base is scheduled to start later on Friday morning. Organisers have urged the public not to crowd the relay route, cancelled many events along the way and have restricted public access to others. Runners and staff will have their temperature and health monitored, the organisers said. The torch relay in Greece was cancelled to avoid drawing crowds.
Some athletes, including reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, said the International Olympic Committee's decision to go ahead was putting their health at risk when entire countries have shut down to curb the virus. The relay is due to pass many of Japan's most famous landmarks over a 121-day journey, including Mount Fuji, Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park and Kumamoto Castle.
(With agency inputs)