By Rocky Swift Reuters

Japan’s western region of Osaka will hold the Olympic torch relay in a park without spectators instead of on public roads, as record coronavirus infections prompted its government to declare a medical emergency on Wednesday.

The celebration cauldron is seen lit on the first day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay in Naraha, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, Thursday, March 25, 2021. The torch relay for the postponed Tokyo Olympics began its 121-day journey across Japan on Thursday and is headed toward the opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 23.

Health authorities fear a virus variant is unleashing a fourth wave of infections just 107 days before the Tokyo Olympics begin, with a vaccination drive still at an early stage.

Osaka governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said the street runs for the relay would be canceled, adding that the medical system faced enormous strain as a more infectious variant sent cases skyrocketing among young people.

“It is almost certain that this mutant strain is highly contagious with a high transmission speed,” he said in televised remarks.

“I would like to ask all residents of Osaka prefecture to refrain from going out unnecessarily. The medical system is in a very tight situation.”

The torch relay will instead take place in the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park, a 260 hectare park managed by Osaka prefecture, without any spectators during the event, Tokyo Olympic organizers said.

The Tokyo organizing committee “will implement all necessary measures to ensure a safe environment for all torchbearers who wish to run there,” it said in a statement.

*source: Global news