The traditional torch-passing relay that precedes the Olympic Games has been canceled as Japanese officials grapple with hosting the event amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Starting Friday, the relay will be replaced with private lighting ceremonies that are streamed online in order to prevent crowds from gathering and potentially spreading the virus, according to the BBC and AFP.
It’s the latest setback for the Tokyo Games originally scheduled to take place last year. The games, which are still branded as Tokyo 2020, are now set to begin July 23 and run through Aug. 8.
Opposition to the event has grown in the country, where a woman was recently arrested for aiming and shooting a water gun at the Olympic torch as it passed on its route. The 53-year-old called for canceling the games.
In June, a poll found that roughly half of people in Japan would prefer Tokyo not go ahead with the games as planned. The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, which represents around 6,000 doctors, voiced its strong opposition the same month, citing a lack of spare resources.
While international spectators are banned from attending the games, organizers decided last month to allow up to 10,000 domestic spectators in person, provided that they do not exceed 50% of a venue’s capacity.
Only around 15% of Japan’s 126 million people are fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins, in an effort that has been stymied by shortages of the shots and shortages of medical personnel.
Rising caseloads across the country are also raising alarms. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last week that eliminating spectators from the equation could still be an option depending on viral spread. Overall, however, Japan has experienced lower loss of life from the pandemic than much of the world; less than 15,000 people have died of COVID-19 there, and the total case count remains well under 1 million.
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