The Olympic torch relay has been scrapped on Tokyo’s public roads, officials announced Wednesday, as virus concerns continue to plague the Games just over two weeks before they begin.
Private flame-lighting ceremonies will replace public relay events across the capital beginning Friday, the Tokyo city government said.
Right up to the opening ceremony on July 23, the torch events will be streamed online, with authorities urging spectators to watch them “in the comfort of your home”.
Only the relay leg in the Ogasawara islands — a remote archipelago some 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) south of Tokyo — will go ahead as scheduled.
The nationwide torch relay has been fraught with problems since it began in March, with almost half the legs disrupted in some way.
The relay was forced off public roads in famous tourist cities such as Kyoto and Hiroshima over fears that crowds of fans could spread the virus.
And it has also met with some public opposition, with a 53-year-old woman arrested on Sunday for squirting a runner with liquid from a water gun.
Olympic organisers have warned competitions at the Games could be held behind closed doors, as they are forced to rethink how many spectators can attend.
They set a limit last month of 10,000 domestic fans, or half of each venue’s capacity. Overseas fans have already been barred.
But Japan’s government is this week expected to extend anti-virus measures in Tokyo and elsewhere, with a further decision on Olympic fans to follow.
Current restrictions cap spectators at non-Olympic sports events at 5,000 and limit the opening hours of bars and restaurants.
On Tuesday, Games organisers urged members of the public not to line the route of the marathon over fears that crowds of fans could spread the virus.
They said it was “necessary to reduce the risk of infection by restricting the movement of members of the public”.
The marathon will take place in the northern city of Sapporo, which is currently under the same anti-virus measures as Tokyo.
Japan’s Covid-19 outbreak has not been as severe as in some countries, with around 14,800 deaths, but experts say another wave could stretch medical services as the Olympics begin.
Participants have already begun arriving in Japan, with 11,000 Olympic athletes from around 200 countries set to take part.
The Japanese team held a stripped-down, socially distanced send-off ceremony on Tuesday, with almost all of the 582 athletes taking part online.