The Tokyo metropolitan government is moving toward taking the Olympic torch relay off public roads also in the second half of the 15-day leg passing through the capital's central area, due to a surge of coronavirus infections, an official familiar with the planning said Monday.
The relay, scheduled to begin Friday in Tokyo two weeks before the start of the Olympics, is likely to be held without spectators almost entirely, dealing another setback to organizers' efforts to stage the sporting extravaganza in the midst of the global health crisis.
The metropolitan government last week said the relay will be pulled off the roads, excluding Tokyo's small islands, on the first eight days.
While the likelihood is also high that the number of spectators to be allowed at each venue will be reduced, the Olympic organizing committee said Monday it will push back the release of the results of a fresh ticket lottery to Saturday.
The committee, which was initially planning to release the results on Tuesday, and other organizers of the Olympics are expected to hold a meeting possibly this week to review the policy of permitting up to 10,000 spectators per venue.
In a related development, the governor of Hokkaido on Monday asked the organizing body to consider staging marathons and race walk events in Sapporo, the capital of the northernmost main island, without roadside spectators in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki met with officials of the committee, including Vice Director General Hiroshi Sato, asking that they implement strict anti-COVID-19 measures and prevent people from gathering on the roadside for the events between Aug. 5 and 8.
Due to a resurgence of infections in Tokyo, driven by highly contagious variants of the virus, the organizers are expected to review the spectator cap agreed on late last month, which allows venues to be filled to 50 percent of capacity with a maximum of 10,000 people.
The fresh lottery has been held among ticket holders to determine those eligible to attend 97 sessions, including the opening and closing ceremonies. They make up over 10 percent of the total sessions.
If the organizers decide to stage the Olympics, set to begin on July 23, without fans in the stands, Suzuki said he wants the policy to be applied to all venues, not just those in Tokyo.
He became the latest governor to urge the organizers to tighten their spectator policy. The governors of Tokyo's neighboring Chiba and Saitama prefectures have called for events after 9 p.m. to be staged behind closed doors.
Suzuki said he wants the organizers to encourage people to watch the marathons and race walks on TV instead of appearing along the routes.
The Olympics will take place in 10 of Japan's 47 prefectures. The men's and women's marathons and race walk events were moved to Sapporo in 2019 due to concern over the capital's extreme summer heat.
About 40 percent of sessions, or time slots, of the Olympics are expected to be held without spectators if those after 9 p.m. will be staged behind closed doors and the current attendance cap of 10,000 people per venue is lowered to 5,000, according to officials involved in the planning process.
The current ceiling was set in line with the Japanese government's policy on spectator limits for major events in the country on the premise that Tokyo will no longer be under a quasi-state of emergency beyond its last day of next Sunday.
However, Japan is leaning toward keeping the quasi-state of emergency covering the Tokyo metropolitan area in place during the Olympics, government officials said Sunday.
Under the emergency, the number of people allowed at sports and other big events is restricted to 50 percent of venue capacity with an upper limit of 5,000 people.
The five organizing parties, including the International Olympic Committee, and the central and metropolitan governments, could hold a meeting as early as Thursday to review the attendance cap.
On that day, the government could formally decide on the extension of the quasi-state of emergency and IOC President Thomas Bach is scheduled to arrive in Japan.
Japan's border controls in place for Olympic delegations and workers from overseas have also been under public scrutiny after two members of the Ugandan team and a Serbian athlete tested positive for the virus.
Olympic delegations have started to arrive in Japan en masse since the beginning of this month and about 1,000 people are expected to enter the country in the seven days until Sunday.
On Monday, a total of 46 athletes and staff from Uzbekistan arrived at Narita airport, near Tokyo, for a pre-Olympic training camp in the capital's Suginami Ward.
They are the first group to land in the country for a training camp in Tokyo, according to the Cabinet Secretariat.
Tokyo takes part of Olympic torch relay off roads due to COVID-19
Japan eyes keeping COVID-19 quasi-emergency during Tokyo Olympics