By IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News
(TOKYO) — After a yearlong wait, thousands of runners will begin passing the Olympic torch across Japan starting next week in the lead-up to the summer games.
But the traditional revelry of the torch relay will be subdued this year, as organizers revealed strict rules for fans to ensure they don’t spread the coronavirus.
The organizers announced Tuesday that that ceremonial torch relay will start on March 25 from northeastern Fukushima prefecture and travel across the country for the next four months, according to The Associated Press. While crowds will still be allowed to gather and watch the journey, they will have to commit to social distancing and mask wearing and are asked to cheer quietly, according to organizers.
“The objective of the Olympic torch relay is to enhance the enthusiasm,” said Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee who has also been put in charge of the relay, according to the AP. “We need to balance things out between bringing enthusiasm and preventing COVID-19 infection.”
Fans will not be allowed at the “Grand Start” ceremony at J-Village next week and organizers warned that they could change their plans based on the country’s situation. This includes stopping or rerouting the torch or removing runners.
Roughly 10,000 runners are participating in the torch relay that links all 47 Japanese prefectures. The relay will end on July 23, the tentative start date for the games.
The International Olympic Committee and Japanese officials have been working to ensure that the delayed games run smoothly without any surges in COVID-19 cases. As of March 16, the country has recorded over 449,113 cases and 8,682 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus resource center.
Participating athletes will operate in a bubble and there will be rigorous testing. The committee hasn’t decided if it will allow international fans to attend the games.
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