Two women take a selfie with the Olympic rings in the background in the Odaiba section of Tokyo, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AP-Yonhap)
TOKYO (AFP) -- Spectators will be barred from the start of the Tokyo Olympics torch relay, organisers said Monday, announcing a pared-back launch as the countdown to the postponed Games begins in earnest.
Fans were told to stay away from next week's "simplified" starting ceremony and first leg of the nationwide relay, which was put on hold a year ago when the Olympics were delayed over the coronavirus.
"The grand start ceremony and the first section of the Fukushima torch relay... will not be open to the public," organisers said in a statement, adding that the festivities would be broadcast live online.The announcement comes ahead of a decision on whether fans from overseas will be allowed to enter Japan for the postponed Games, expected to be taken before the torch relay begins on March 25.
Reports last week suggested the Japanese government is set to ban fans from abroad over fears of a rise in infections.
The torch relay will begin in Fukushima prefecture, which last week marked the 10th anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that left 18,500 dead or missing.
But the torch, headed for the Olympics opening ceremony on July 23, will get a more muted send-off than originally planned.
"In order to allow all possible Covid-19 countermeasures to be taken, the number of participants travelling from Tokyo to the site is being substantially curtailed," Tokyo 2020 said.
"In addition, the programme has been simplified and the number of performers at the ceremony has been reduced."
About 3,000 spectators had been expected to attend the relay's starting ceremony, which will feature a children's choir and decorations made from flowers from disaster-affected areas.
Members of Japan's women's football team will light the torch using the Olympic flame -- which has been kept in Japan since the Games were postponed in March 2020.
It will then set off around the country before arriving for the Games'
opening ceremony in Tokyo, with spectators allowed to line the route as long as they obey strict virus countermeasures including a ban on cheering.
Fans will be required to wear masks, avoid crowding, and only attend segments of the relay near their home.
Organisers have warned that "individual relay segments will be suspended if there is a risk of overcrowding".
Both runners and staff will have to keep detailed health records in the two weeks before their participation, and avoid risky activities -- including eating out or going to crowded places.
Tokyo 2020 organisers have stressed that public safety will be "top priority" at the Games, and are set to take a decision on overall attendance limits in April.
The organising committee announced Monday that two test events scheduled for late April -- for skateboarding and shooting -- will now be held in May. (AFP)