The governor of Japan’s western region of Osaka has canceled the upcoming public Olympic torch event amid a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Olympic relay torchbearers will no longer be able to run through public streets as had been planned.
Instead, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee confirmed the relay will now take place behind closed doors at the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park in the city of Suita on April 13 and 14.
In a statement on Wednesday, organizers said they would work to “ensure a safe environment for all torchbearers who wish to run there, with no spectators being admitted on either day.”
Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said the speed of infection was currently “very fast” and the infection rate “very high,” declaring a state of a medical emergency in the region.
“The number of daily new cases increased four times faster this week than before. The medical system is at a very severe level,” Yoshimura said in a news conference on Wednesday.
The torch relay began its 121-day domestic journey to Tokyo on March 25 in Fukushima.
The Osaka prefectural government reported a record high of 878 daily new cases on Wednesday.
Yoshimura warned that almost 70 percent of hospital beds in the region were full and asked residents to refrain from non-essential outings.
Data shows the more contagious variants of coronavirus made up around half of the infections since the end of March.
Osaka prefecture’s first medical emergency due to the pandemic was declared on December 3 and lasted until the end of February.
Tokyo also reported 555 new cases on Wednesday – the highest figure since the second state of emergency was lifted on March 21.
The Games are currently scheduled to take place from July 23 to August 8. The Paralympics will follow, from August 24 to September 5.
Analysis from Blake Essig, CNN International Correspondent
The run up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics hasn’t exactly gone to plan.
The pandemic has delayed the Games by a year, several test events and Olympic qualifiers have been postponed or canceled, and now the Osaka leg of the torch relay will be held behind closed doors as fears of a fourth wave of infection continue to grow. Simply put, this is not what Japan had in mind back in 2013 when they won the bid to host the Games.
For Olympic organizers, with no overseas spectators allowed to attend, the torch relay is an opportunity to generate local support and excitement for an event which to this point, remains deeply unpopular in Japan.
Perhaps it’s the combination of scandal, health and safety concerns, and the huge price tag associated with hosting that has a majority of people wanting to see the Games once again postponed or canceled completely.
The reality – postponing or canceling feels like it’s unlikely to happen.
Olympic organizers and the Japanese government seem dead set on hosting the Games on schedule this summer – they’ve said so multiple times – essentially placing sport and a global spotlight ahead of the health, safety and well-being of the people living in Japan.