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‘No silver bullet’: torch relay struggles highlight hurdles for pandemic Olympics

Gold medal Paralympian Rina Akiyama pulled out of the Olympic torch relay on the eleventh hour this month, anxious about drawing crowds that may unfold the coronavirus, the most recent in a collection of cancellations which have plagued the occasion.

The withdrawal by Akiyama and greater than a dozen celebrities from the relay, which begins Thursday, underscores the challenges going through organisers of one of many world’s most complicated occasions, hosted by a nation the place vaccinations have barely begun, within the midst of a yet-untamed pandemic.

“I’m a former athlete and understand how vital the Olympics and Paralympics are, however life must be prioritised above the whole lot else,” mentioned Akiyama, 33, and a swimmer who gained gold in London in 2012.

“I’m no medical knowledgeable, nevertheless it doesn’t look to me just like the scenario will finish in simply three or 4 months,” Akiyama added. “Now we have no silver-bullet drugs or sufficient vaccine to go round in Japan.”

The mix of the pandemic and an unprecedented postponement of the Video games has pressured native organisers to scramble to drag issues collectively. Three an infection surges and lockdowns have slowed last preparations, prompting media experiences of busy singers and actors complaining about late notifications.

The Olympic torch of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Video games is displayed on the organising committee workplace, forward of the beginning of the torch relay on March 25, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Hiromi Kawamura, who oversees the relay on the Tokyo 2020 organisers, apologised for delays, however mentioned they had been juggling huge quantities of fast-changing data, a shifting pandemic scenario and negotiations with nationwide and native governments.

“We needed to make a complete plan as the primary wave, the second wave, the third wave got here,” she instructed Reuters. “That took a whole lot of time, we will’t deny it, and I do consider that it made folks within the native areas involved.”

The relay will run for 4 months, taking the torch throughout all of Japan’s 47 prefectures, together with far-flung islands, and can contain about 10,000 runners.

COME WHAT MAY

The federal government pledged to hold out the Video games come what could, however officers on the bottom mentioned there have been lingering fears it might be cancelled anyway. The Video games had been postponed final 12 months two days earlier than the torch relay started.

“We knew the whole lot would rely upon the an infection threat, so cancellation once more was a chance,” mentioned Kosei Shoji, an official in Fukushima, the place the relay begins.

The beginning ceremony and the primary part of the relay won’t be open to followers. Elsewhere, spectators have to put on masks, socially distance, and the relay might be halted if the course space turns into too crowded.

The governor of the western prefecture of Shimane has threatened to cancel the relay altogether, saying he would resolve solely a month earlier than the occasion arrives there on Might 15.

“The sense is it would in all probability be referred to as off, however we’re getting ready,” mentioned a Shimane official, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the difficulty. “If it comes off, we’ll solely have a month to do it, in order that in all probability means working by the evening a whole lot of instances. And we’ll have to drag in folks from different workplaces to assist.”

Tokyo 2020’s Kawamura acknowledged that it was arduous to steadiness the celebrations normally accompanying a torch relay with the robust circumstances of the pandemic.

“I feel there’s a feeling about whether or not it’s all proper to be having enjoyable, when there are people who find themselves struggling,” she mentioned.

“However, this isn’t the form of enjoyable you could have using a rollercoaster. It’s having individuals who have contributed to the native areas as torch runners,” she added.

Kawamura pledged to “do it safely, and the enjoyable shall be acceptable to having it happen in the course of the coronavirus.”

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