TOKYO – Japan is halting a public display of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic torches as new virus cases jump in the country and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga orders a state of emergency for Tokyo and the surrounding areas until next month.
Tokyo reported 2,447 new cases on Thursday. This is a jump of 850 cases — just over 50% — from the day before. Tokyo was reporting just a few hundred new cases a few months ago.
The rapid spread of the virus in Japan is imperiling plans for the postponed Tokyo Olympics, which are to open on July 23. The Paralympics begin on Aug. 24.
The Olympics were postponed nine months ago because of the pandemic. A poll last month by Japanese broadcaster NHK showed 63% of 1,200 Japanese surveyed think the Games should be postponed again — or canceled.
Japan has attributed about 3,500 deaths to COVID-19, a moderate success rates in controlling the virus for a country of 125 million.
The Switzerland-base International Olympic Committee and local organizers have said the Games will not be postponed again and will be canceled if they cannot be held this time.
Japan has invested at least $25 billion in preparing the Olympics, and the IOC depends on selling broadcast rights for almost three-quarters of its income.
The Olympics and Paralympics could involve more that 15,000 athletes entering Japan from 205 nations and territories, plus tens of thousands of officials, judges, administrators, VIPS, sponsors, media and broadcasters. It is not clear if fans will be permitted, or if fans from abroad will be allowed to enter Japan. Organizers have been vague and say those decisions will not be announced until spring.
In a statement, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said the exhibitions of the torches would be called off starting Thursday. The displays do not involve the Olympic flame. The Tokyo government said the postponements would continue through at least Jan. 29.
The state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures is in effect until the first week of February, which means other planned displays of the torches are likely to be postponed.
The torch relay carrying the Olympic flame is to begin on March 25, and set to involve 10,000 runners across four months. The safety of this is being questioned. There was talk of cancelling the relay but that was short-lived with sponsors Toyota and Coca-Cola heavily involved in the torch relay promotion.
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