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Coronavirus: Tokyo Olympics torch ceremony downsized over COVID-19 fears

Coronavirus outbreak: IOC President says its ‘full steam’ ahead for 2020 Olympics
WATCH: IOC President says its 'full steam' ahead for 2020 Olympics

TOKYO — Tokyo organizers are downsizing the arrival ceremony for the Olympic torch because of the spreading coronavirus.

Organizing 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,” Mori said, speaking in Japanese.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Tokyo postpones training for Olympics volunteers as government faces criticism

The Olympic torch will be lighted on March 12 in a ceremony in Greece and then flown to Japan. It is to land in Miyagi at a Japan Air Self-Defense base in the northern part of the country.

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

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“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.”

COVID-19: Japan PM asks public for help in fighting virus, says Olympics will go ahead
COVID-19: Japan PM asks public for help in fighting virus, says Olympics will go ahead

Mori referred obliquely to changes being made. The IOC says the 2020 Games will go on as planned, but others have speculated about postponing, canceling, moving events or changing cities, or even holding an Olympics without fans.

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“The Tokyo Olympics should be held even if parts of it have to be modified,” Mori said. “But it does not mean we will scale it down.”

READ MORE: There is no ‘Plan B’ for Olympics over COVID-19 concerns, organizers say

The four-month torch relay around Japan begins on March 26 from Fukushima prefecture, located about 250 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo. It is to end on July 24 at the new $1.43 billion national stadium in Tokyo.

Mori did not discuss any other changes to the relay. He was asked about the opening on July 24 and ruled out any postponement.

WHO warns world is unprepared for COVID-19 spread
WHO warns world is unprepared for COVID-19 spread

The International Olympic Committee and local organizers have repeated over and over that the Olympics will open as scheduled. The Paralympics are set to begin on Aug. 25.

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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.