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Two weeks before the first Games in Olympic history to be held behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Olympic flame arrived in Tokyo on Friday in an empty stadium.
The Olympic flame arrived in Tokyo on Friday July 9 for a ceremony in an empty stadium, the day after the decision by the Japanese authorities and the organizers of the Olympic Games to ban spectators from most venues for fear of the Covid-19.
Exactly two weeks before the Games’ opening ceremony scheduled for July 23, the Olympic flame was carried on stage in a lantern and symbolically handed over to Yuriko Koike, Governor of Tokyo.
Tokyo-2020 organizers and Japanese officials announced Thursday evening their decision to ban spectators from attending sporting events in the capital. The public should be allowed at certain sites outside of Tokyo, such as in the Fukushima department.
State of health emergency
This means that the 2020 Olympics postponed to this summer due to a pandemic will be the first in Olympic history to take place largely behind closed doors.
This was decided in connection with the Japanese government’s decision to reinstate a state of health emergency – the fourth since the start of the pandemic – in Tokyo until August 22. The Games are due to end on August 8.
The Olympic torch relay was supposed to generate excitement, but it was banned on public roads in several departments and in Tokyo itself. Instead, small flame-lighting ceremonies are held symbolically without an audience.
Five costumed male trumpeters played a catchy tune on Friday, under a booth that sheltered them from the drizzle, in front of the media and a handful of officials. But the stands remained empty at the stadium in Komazawa Olympic Park, in the southern suburbs of the capital, which had been built for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
“I am happy that we are welcoming the Torch Relay with these legacies that we proudly show at home and abroad,” said Yuriko Koike. But the governor of Tokyo, who was recently hospitalized with exhaustion, coughed three times during her brief speech and several times afterward.
In announcing the state of emergency, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stressed the need “to prevent infections from spreading again throughout Japan, given the impact of the new variants”. The more contagious Delta now accounts for around 30% of cases in Japan.
While the Japanese archipelago has been relatively spared so far by the Covid-19 pandemic, with less than 15,000 deaths officially recorded since early 2020, its vaccination program only accelerated from May. Just over 15% of the population has been fully vaccinated so far, and experts fear the Delta variant could cause a new wave that could overwhelm hospitals in Japan.