March 24 (UPI) — The Olympic torch relay for the 2020 Summer Games will not take place as planned in Japan due to the coronavirus outbreak, with the flame set to stay inside a lantern before ending up at the July 24 opening ceremony.
The torch relay will still start Thursday in the northeastern Fukushima prefecture. There will be no torch, torchbearers or public in attendance. The flame — which arrived Friday from Greece — will stay in a lantern and be transported by vehicle, instead of being handed off between thousands of torchbearers.
The Olympic torch was lit March 12 near the Temple of Hera in ancient Olympia, Greece. It was scheduled to travel throughout Greece and be handed off between 600 torchbearers before that relay was cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak. The torch was then transported to the host country and was scheduled to be carried to all of Japan’s 47 prefectures before being used to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony during a 121-day ceremony.
Original plans called for about 10,000 torchbearers to carry the flame throughout Japan. The new plans include the flame being carried by car before being placed on display in cauldrons at respective prefectures. The plan came after organizers determined the existing itinerary ran counter to the Japanese government advising against large-scale gatherings.
The flame is scheduled to visit Tochigi and Gunma before starting its April leg in Nagano.
Olympic officials are still weighing their options for the 2020 Summer Games, with postponement being one of those options, due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Canadian Olympic Committee and Australia Olympic Committee said they will not send delegations to the Summer Games unless they are postponed.
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee has also urged Olympic officials to postpone Tokyo 2020. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has ruled out canceling the Summer Games. The IOC on Sunday set a four-week deadline to decide the fate of the games.
“Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games,” Bach wrote in a letter to Olympic athletes. “The IOC wants to be part of the solution. Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved, and to contribute to containing the virus.
“I wish, and we all are working for this, that the hope so many athletes, NOCs and IFs from all five continents have expressed will be fulfilled: that at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel.”