By Karolos Grohmann
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia next month said on Monday they have taken extra measures to avoid the coronavirus’ spread during the torch’s months-long relay.
The Olympics torch, a symbol of global peace and sportsmanship, will be lit at the site of the ancient Greek Games on March 12 before a seven-day relay in Greece then a handover ceremony in Athens to Japan on March 19.
It will then go on a relay around Japan ending with the Games’ opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 24.
Hellenic Olympic Committee President Spyros Capralos told reporters a meeting had been held with a Greek health risk management company to be ready “in case anything happens”.
The torch relay involves hundreds of torchbearers in Greece and around 10,000 in Japan. But as the torch is not handed between runners, but rather the flame of one lights the next, there is limited human contact.
“On the issue we are all facing these days, the coronavirus … we are taking a number of measures. We will do whatever is humanly possible to have no problems whatsoever during the relay,” relay director Sakis Vassiliadis told reporters, without giving further details.
Organizers were in close contact with the Greek health ministry, he added.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China. Outside mainland China, it has spread to about 28 nations and territories, with some two dozen deaths.
It has forced the cancellation of many sports events in recent weeks and raised alarm bells for Tokyo Games organizers.
However, the International Olympic Committee has said it had been advised by the World Health Organization that there is no case for contingency plans to cancel or relocate the Games.
There are no recorded cases in Greece yet, but Japan has had 773 infections, most on a cruise ship, and three deaths.
The torch relay in Japan will begin in Fukushima, site of an earthquake and nuclear disaster in 2011, and will then visit all 47 of Japan’s prefectures ahead of the opening ceremony.
The relay is due to pass many of Japan’s most famous landmarks over a 121-day journey, including Mount Fuji, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Kumamoto Castle.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)