Advertisement

Olympic torch relay barred from public roads in Japan’s Osaka region

Click to play video: 'Fears and major hurdles as Tokyo Olympics nears' Fears and major hurdles as Tokyo Olympics nears
WATCH: After being postponed for a year due to the pandemic, the Tokyo Summer Olympics are finally set to begin July 23. As Mike Drolet reports, COVID-19 hasn't dampened the spirits of Canada's top athletes.

Japan’s western region of Osaka will hold the Olympic torch relay in a park without spectators instead of on public roads, as record coronavirus infections prompted its government to declare a medical emergency on Wednesday.

Health authorities fear a virus variant is unleashing a fourth wave of infections just 107 days before the Tokyo Olympics begin, with a vaccination drive still at an early stage.

Read more: North Korea’s exit from Tokyo Olympics dashes South’s hopes for new peace talks

Osaka governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said the street runs for the relay would be canceled, adding that the medical system faced enormous strain as a more infectious variant sent cases skyrocketing among young people.

“It is almost certain that this mutant strain is highly contagious with a high transmission speed,” he said in televised remarks.

Story continues below advertisement

“I would like to ask all residents of Osaka prefecture to refrain from going out unnecessarily. The medical system is in a very tight situation.”

The torch relay will instead take place in the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park, a 260 hectare park managed by Osaka prefecture, without any spectators during the event, Tokyo Olympic organizers said.

The Tokyo organizing committee “will implement all necessary measures to ensure a safe environment for all torchbearers who wish to run there,” it said in a statement.

Click to play video: 'New ‘Eek’ COVID-19 variant causes concern in Japan' New ‘Eek’ COVID-19 variant causes concern in Japan
New ‘Eek’ COVID-19 variant causes concern in Japan – Apr 6, 2021

The Osaka leg of the relay is scheduled for April 13-14.

The prefecture reported 878 new infections on Wednesday, a second-straight day of record numbers. Severe cases have filled about 70% of hospital beds in the region.

Story continues below advertisement

Osaka and the neighboring prefectures of Hyogo and Miyagi started on Monday a month of targeted lockdown measures, to rein in a more virulent strain of the virus.

In recent days, Osaka’s infections have outstripped those in Tokyo, the Japanese capital and a much larger city. Even so, Tokyo’s cases are on an uptrend as well, with Wednesday’s 555 new infections standing at the highest since early February.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she was preparing to request similar emergency steps in the capital region.

Read more: With waves but no cheers, Tokyo Olympics torch relay kicks off in Japan

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had said on Sunday that the measures, which allow regional governments to order restaurants to close early and levy fines for noncompliance, would be expanded as necessary.

Japan’s vaccination drive is far behind that of most major economies, with about 1 million people being given at least one dose since February.

That figure represents less than 1% of the population, versus almost 2% in neighboring South Korea, which started its campaign after Japan.

Sponsored content