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Pandemic effects persist as Olympic countdown reaches 100 days

As the countdown to the rescheduled Olympics hits the 100-day mark, the risks of staging the Games amid a pandemic remain very much prevalent in Japan.

The continued effects of Covid-19 on the Games were highlighted once again yesterday as the torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics ran through a mostly empty park on its leg through the city of Osaka.

It came on the same day that the Government reported new coronavirus cases in Osaka had hit 1,099, a single-day record for Japan's second-largest metropolitan area.

Osaka, which announced plans last week to take the relay off city streets and ban the public, became the first detour since the relay began last month. Organisers warned beforehand there may be more.

Many runners arrived in Osaka's Expo '70 Commemorative Park by bus and ran short legs carrying the torch alongside metal barriers or in empty park space.

They were accompanied by security officials who jogged or walked alongside, and followed by an “escort” or “promotional” vehicle adorned with logos of major Olympic sponsors.

Today’s second leg in Osaka, when the Tokyo Olympic countdown clock hits 100 days to go, will be in the same park under the same closed-doors conditions.

The torch relay, which began three weeks ago in Fukushima in north-eastern Japan and acted as the official countdown to the postponed Games, will see an expected 10,000 bearers carrying the torch across Japan to the opening ceremony on July 23.

However, as its journey continues towards Tokyo, uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and public pessimism rumbles on in the host nation.

The most immediate concern for the public remains that, while new Covid-19 cases continue to rise — including the reported spread of virus mutations — less than 1 per cent of the nation’s residents have been vaccinated.

Despite Japan’s attributed 9,393 deaths to Covid-19, remaining far less than many countries, it also stands higher than many of the nation’s neighbours across Asia.

As a result, Osaka, Tokyo and other parts of Japan have declared “quasi-emergency” conditions until early May, with bars and restaurants being asked to close by 8pm.

Amid the restrictions, much of the public are sceptical about the continuation of the torch relay.

A poll conducted by Japanese news agency Kyodo this week showed 13.2 per cent want the relay to continue until the opening ceremony. Another 49.3 per cent said the relay should be cancelled in areas with severe outbreaks, while 35.9 per cent said it should be called off entirely.

Opposition to hosting the Olympics in a pandemic also remains strong in Japan with up to 80 per cent believing the Games should be cancelled or postponed for a second time.

The Olympics and Paralympics are expected to draw 15,400 athletes and tens of thousands of officials, judges, media and broadcasters. However, spectators and volunteers from abroad have been banned.

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Published April 14, 2021 at 7:58 am (Updated April 14, 2021 at 7:54 am)

Pandemic effects persist as Olympic countdown reaches 100 days

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