The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee on Thursday released a set of coronavirus countermeasures for the torch relay, just a month before the start of the nationwide event, ranging from asking fans to applaud instead of shouting along the route to requiring runners to monitor their health.
The committee said it will encourage fans to watch live online broadcasts of the 121-day event, starting March 25, to prevent overcrowding on roadsides, and that the relay may be suspended if too many people gather along the route.
It called on torchbearers to complete health checklists in the two weeks leading up to their participation and refrain from dining out during that time to limit the risk of contracting the virus.
Speaking at an online press conference, Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee, said the measures were necessary to ensure the safety of spectators and relay participants.
"As we prepare (for the relay), it is very important that we prioritize safety and take sufficient measures against the coronavirus," Hashimoto said.
The Japanese leg of the relay, which was delayed for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic, will kick off at the J-Village soccer training center in Fukushima and pass through the country's other 46 prefectures before the opening ceremony of the Olympics on July 23.
Under the guidelines, people who wish to watch the event in person are asked to refrain from traveling to other prefectures, and must wear face masks and keep their distance from other spectators.
Celebration events with live performances and exhibition booths will be held at the end of each day of the relay, but the committee said it will require people to make reservations beforehand, in principle, to enter the venues.
Celebrity torchbearers who may draw a huge crowd are scheduled to run in places where the organizers can manage the size of the crowd.
The organizing committee's countermeasures earned support from people in Fukushima Prefecture, which was selected as the starting point of the relay to showcase its recovery from the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster.
"The worst thing that can happen is having spectators contract the virus. It is important to follow the rules," said Kenichiro Mizoi, a 76-year-old torchbearer from the prefecture. "We have to accept it even if only a small number of spectators show up."
Yuna Onuma, 20, who has suffered from the impact of the nuclear disaster, said she has decided not to watch the relay from the route.
"It can't be helped given that there is a possibility that the virus can spread. I want to root (for the runners) with my family at home," she said.
According to the organizing committee, some 300 runners from overseas already registered to participate in the event will still need to follow entry restrictions imposed by the Japanese government.
In December, the committee said about 10,000 runners will carry the torch through 859 municipalities across the country's 47 prefectures, with the itinerary unaffected by the rescheduling of the games.
The relay is scheduled to pass through World Heritage sites and areas devastated by recent natural disasters.
The flame arrived in Japan on March 20 last year after it was lit in ancient Olympia, Greece. However, International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach and then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided just four days later to reschedule the games.