Thousands flock to see Olympic flame in Japan despite virus fears

Tens of thousands flock to see Olympic flame in Japan despite warnings to stay away from mass gatherings due to coronavirus

  • More than 50,000 people queued to watch the Olympic flame displayed in Japan
  • Ten of thousands flocked to Sendai station in Miyagi despite coronavirus fears
  • Some spectators had to stay in a 1,650-foot queue for several hours to see flame
  • Organisers have been forced to scale back the torch relay to avoid the crowds
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Tens of thousands of spectators flocked to see the Olympic flame in Japan over the weekend despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and warning to avoid crowded public events.   

The flame arrived in Japan to a scaled-down welcoming ceremony on Friday as doubts grew over whether the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will go ahead on schedule as the deadly virus causes chaos around the world.

The pandemic has already shredded the global sports calendar, with top sports leagues suspended and major tournaments postponed.

More than 50,000 people on Saturday queued to watch the flame displayed at Sendai station in Miyagi, chosen as part of the ‘Recovery Olympics’ to showcase the region’s revival after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

Some had to stay in a 1,650-foot (500-metre) queue for several hours, local media said. 

Tens of thousands queued at Sendai station to see the Olympic flame on Saturday despite fears of spreading the coronavirus by going to busy public places 

Organisers are under pressure to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Games because of the coronavirus pandemic

People wearing face masks queuing to see the Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame on display outside the railway station in Hanamaki today 

Families with young children queued for hours outside the railway station in Hanamaki to see the Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame, despite warnings about avoiding mass gatherings 

Many of them wore masks as they took pictures with the cherry blossom-shaped cauldron in northeastern Japan.

‘I queued for three hours but watching the Olympic flame was greatly encouraging,’ a 70-year-old woman told public broadcaster NHK.

But organisers, concerned about the bigger-than-expected gathering, have warned the viewing event could be suspended if a crowd becomes ‘extremely dense’, local media reported.

The nationwide torch relay begins on March 26, starting from the J-Village sports complex in Fukushima that was used as a base for workers during the 2011 nuclear disaster.

But organisers have been forced to scale back the relay, closing daily ceremonies to the public and urging spectators to ‘avoid forming crowds’ along the route.

Tokyo 2020 organisers have started drafting possible alternatives to holding the Olympics this summer, sources revealed. 

People queuing to see the Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame on display outside the railway station in Hanamaki today

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame being displayed outside the railway station in Hanamaki today

The options, which include scaling back the Games or holding them without spectators, would be debated by the organising committee at the end of March, the official said. 

The top government spokesman on Wednesday said Tokyo was not preparing for postponement.

The summer 2021 calendar is already crowded while 2022 will see the soccer World Cup and the Beijing Winter Olympics. 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has staked his legacy as Japan’s longest-serving premier on the Games and is hoping for a boom in tourism and consumer spending. At risk is more than $3 billion in domestic sponsorship, an Olympic record, and some $12 billion spent on preparations.

Japan has recorded 1,055 cases of domestically transmitted cases of coronavirus as of today, up 40 from the previous day.

The number passed the 1,000 milestone on Saturday as the nation battles to avoid a health crisis ahead of the Olympics. 

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