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Tokyo Games relay opens in 100 days with 10,000 torchbearers

FILE - In this March 20, 2020, file photo, three-time Olympic gold medalists Tadahiro Nomura, right, and Saori Yoshida light the torch during Olympic Flame Arrival Ceremony at Japan Air Self-Defense Force Matsushima Base in Higashimatsushima in Miyagi Prefecture, north of Tokyo. The torch relay for the postponed Tokyo Olympics is to start in just over three months, and it faces the same questions as the Olympics about being held safely during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TOKYO – The torch relay for the postponed Tokyo Olympics is to start in just over three months, and it faces the same questions as the Olympics about being held safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers said Tuesday the relay is to begin on March 25 from the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima. This was also to have been the starting point for the relay before the Olympics were postponed nine months ago.

This coastal area of Japan was devastated almost 10 years ago by an earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent meltdown of three nuclear reactors.

The relay will travel across Japan and involve 10,000 runners and tens of thousands of officials. This does not include local residents who will want to see the torch go by.

“The COVID-19 countermeasures will be worked on continuously for the torch relay; the audience, the torchbearers as well as the officials who are related to the program,” Yukihiko Nunomura, vice director general of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, said Tuesday during an on-line news conference.

The relay is sponsored by Toyota and Coca-Cola — two heavyweight Olympic sponsors. There was some discussion early about the possibility of eliminating the event for cost and safety reasons, but that idea seemed to be quickly discarded.

The relay will last for 121 days and pass through 859 municipalities — pretty much as was planned before the postponement.

"We wanted to simplify the program as much as possible, trying to minimize the number of vehicles and audience as well,” Nunomura said. "As you know the torch relay will go all over Japan and we will have a lot of participants.”

The Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in Japan, was lighted in gold on Tuesday to commemorate 100 days until the relay begins.

The postponed Olympics are to open on July 23, 2021, and are set to include the full complement of 11,000 athletes. The Paralympics will add 4,400 more.

Organizers of the Olympics and torch relay are waiting until early next year to provide specific details about countermeasures for the coronavirus. They have been encouraged about the recent roll out of vaccines.

“A few vaccines are now being distributed and are actually being used,” Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, said in an interview Monday with Associated Press. "Ït's a ray of hope."

Japan has seen new infections spike across the country in the last several weeks. On Saturday new cases totaled 3,041 — the first time above 3,000.

Japan, with a population of 125 million, has handled the pandemic relatively well with just over 2,500 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

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