A plane with the Tokyo 2020 livery departed the Haneda International Airport on Wednesday for Athens to collect the Olympic flame but without any delegates onboard from the organisers due to the coronavirus or COVID-19 epidemic.
The orgsanisers mentioned that they chose not to send the high-level delegation which would have included organising committee president Yoshiro Mori and also the Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto, because of the coronavirus scare.
The flu-like virus has killed more than 7,500 people and brought sport to a standstill around the world. Japan's ambassador to Greece will receive the flame at a handover ceremony, organisers said. Lower-level Tokyo 2020 officials who travelled to Greece last week will accompany the flame back to Japan.
Some 20 airline and airport staff waved the plane off with very little fanfare at the airport, which was almost empty as travel restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus have lead to widespread flight cancellations. The Olympic flame will arrive on Japanese soil on Friday at Matushima airbase and be greeted by another low key ceremony.
Despite sporting events being cancelled across the world in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Olympics organisers maintain the Games will start as planned on July 24. The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that it does not plan any "drastic" decisions about the Games, saying it remains fully committed to the event being staged in four months' time despite the global spread of the coronavirus.
(With agency inputs)