Olympic torch begins four-month journey to Tokyo

The Olympic torch relay set off from Fukushima on Thursday, beginning a four-month countdown to the summer Games in Tokyo, delayed from 2020 and the first ever organised during a global pandemic.

Casting a pall over celebrations, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles before the relay began.

About 10,000 runners will carry the torch across Japan’s 47 prefectures and far-flung islands, starting from the site of the 2011 quake and tsunami that killed about 20,000 people and sent tens of thousands fleeing radioactive plumes.

“For the past year, as the entire world underwent a difficult period, the Olympic flame was kept alive quietly but powerfully,” Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said at the opening ceremony, which was closed to spectators.

“The small flame did not lose hope, and just like the cherry blossom buds that are ready to bloom, it was waiting for this day,” Hashimoto said.

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After the North Korean missile launch, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga assured reporters the national government was cooperating with Tokyo and the International Olympic Committee to host a secure Games.

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“We will do our utmost in terms of coronavirus measures and continue to work with related areas to contain the spread of infections and hope to work towards a safe and secure Games,” Suga said.

Japan has fared better than most countries during the pandemic, with fewer than 9,000 coronavirus deaths, but Tokyo reported 420 cases on Wednesday, the highest single-day figure this month.

The majority of the public is against the Olympics being held as scheduled, polls show.

The relay, which will culminate with the Olympic opening ceremony on July 23, has been hit by several high-profile runner cancellations as celebrities and top-level athletes have pulled out, citing late notice and worries over the pandemic.

Reuters

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