March 6, 2020 / 8:44 AM / 3 months ago

Tokyo 2020 drops children from Olympic torch events as virus precaution

A man wearing protective face mask, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, is seen through The Olympic rings in front of the Japan Olympics Museum in Tokyo, Japan, March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

TOKYO (Reuters) - Some 340 Japanese children will be unable to participate in the Olympic torch ceremonies for the handover in Greece and arrival in Japan due to precautions being taken against the spread of the coronavirus, Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori said on Friday.

Mori, a former prime minister who heads the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, again rebuffed speculation that the Games might be cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Impossible,” Mori told reporters who asked about the potential cancellation. On Wednesday, when he was asked when the organizers could decide on any changes to the Olympics if the virus kept spreading he said: “I’m not a God so I don’t know.”

Mori has said that the only plan right now was to hold the Games as scheduled, but emphasized that the organizers were listening to various opinions and would be flexible about the events in the run-up because the situation was evolving rapidly.

The number of coronavirus cases in Japan stood at 1,057 as of Friday morning. The virus has killed 12 people in Japan and more than 3,000 globally since late last year.

The Olympic torch will be lit in Olympia at a scaled-down ceremony on March 12 before a seven-day relay that will culminate with a handover ceremony in Greece on March 19, which 140 Japanese children had been slated to attend. Around 200 more were to have participated in the arrival ceremony in Japan on March 20.

“The children practiced very hard for the ceremonies so we’re very sorry about that. We’ll try to make it up to them during the Games,” said Mori.

Runners and staff involved in the relay carrying the torch after its arrival in Japan will have their temperature and health monitored and the number of people attending events could be restricted, the organisers said.

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, writing by Elaine Lies and Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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