Olympic Flame Lighting Ceremony Will Be Closed To Public Due To Coronavirus Concerns

The traditional Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame in Greece that kicks off the Olympics season will be held Thursday without spectators owing to coronavirus concerns, organizers said Monday.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee also urged local communities to “follow the instructions of the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Organization” when the Olympic Torch comes through Greek and Japanese cities and towns on it way to the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The Olympics, scheduled for July 24-August 9, remains on schedule despite the rise of coronavirus cases worldwide. The International Olympic Committee last week reaffirmed its plan to hold the Games as planned, though at least one IOC member, Dick Pound, said last month that if the Olympics were to be canceled, a decision would have to come by late May.

Coronavirus concerns have wrecked havoc with global sporting events from soccer to tennis to car racing. COVID-19 illnesses have surpassed 100,000 worldwide since beginning in China at the end of 2019, killing 3,500 people globally so far. As of Sunday, there were 455 confirmed cases and six deaths in Japan, according to the World Health Organization.

As for Thursday’s lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia, it will be attended by 100 accredited guests from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee. A Wednesday dress rehearsal will be closed to the public and to journalists. After eight days in Greece, the flame will be flown to Japan for a 121-day journey to Tokyo.

“We urge the mayors of the cities through which the Olympic Flame will pass or stay overnight to follow the instructions of the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Organization,” Greece’s Olympic committee said Monday. “The Hellenic Olympic Committee will continue to monitor the situation and, depending on developments, will make decisions, always with a view to protecting public health.”

The WHO said 66 people in Greece are confirmed to have coronavirus, with no deaths recorded.

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