Osaka officials want Olympic torch relay to skip city over virus: media

Tokyo (AFP) –

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The Olympic torch relay should skip Osaka city where coronavirus cases are spiking, the region's governor and the city's mayor said Thursday, local media reported.

Officials in Osaka would not immediately confirm the reported comments, which come as the government moves to impose new virus countermeasures in parts of Osaka and two other regions over rising infections.

Multiple local media outlets said governor Hirofumi Yoshimura wanted the relay leg in Osaka city to be cancelled.

"We think it falls into the category of unnecessary outings and we need to avoid crowds in Osaka city," the Mainichi Shimbun quoted him as saying.

Local media said Osaka city mayor Ichiro Matsui also called for the relay to avoid the metropolis.

"It's very unfortunate, but the torch relay should be cancelled," the Nikkei newspaper quoted him as saying.

The torch relay began on March 25 from Fukushima, with organisers hoping it will help build enthusiasm across Japan for the Games after a year-long virus delay.

It is scheduled to travel through Osaka prefecture on April 13 and 14, starting in Sakai city and ending in Osaka city.

Tokyo 2020 organisers had no immediate comment on the reports.

The governor of another region, Shimane prefecture, has also suggested he could call for the relay to skip his area if virus measures are not tightened.

Rules already require spectators lining the relay route to wear masks and avoid cheering, and the organisers have said legs could be cancelled if overcrowding occurs.

Covid-19 infections have been rising in Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures, with the government expected to formally announce new restrictions for the regions later today, allowing officials there to require businesses to close early or face fines.