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Japan nixes plan for Olympic torch relay amid COVID-19 surge

Japan nixes plan for Olympic torch relay amid COVID-19 surge
The Tokyo Olympic torch relay through the city of Osaka has been canceled, according to local press reports on Thursday. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

April 1 (UPI) -- Japan is canceling a planned Olympic torch relay in the city of Osaka, as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to grow in the country and vaccine rollout has been relatively slow since February.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said late Thursday the relay scheduled for April 13 and 14 in Japan's third-largest city has been canceled due to a new surge of COVID-19, Kyodo News reported.

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The statement from Suga came after Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura recommended the cancellation. The city was already planning to enforce stricter rules to curb the spread of the virus from April 5 to May 5, the report said.

Earlier in the year Osaka had ended a state of emergency only to see cases climb rapidly at the end of last month.

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"In Osaka, in particular, the number of infected individuals in their 20s and 30s is increasing as people continue to go out at night," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Thursday, according to Al Jazeera.

"Reports of mutant strains are also increasing, and the contagion is expected to continue."

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Osaka recently began to require shorter business hours. Office employees have been advised to work from home and stay away from indoor recreational spaces like karaoke bars, the report said.

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The Tokyo Olympic torch relay began on March 25 in Fukushima. On Thursday, the torch passed through the city of Nagano but the relay took place without an audience due to the resurgence of COVID-19.

The virus could be spreading in urban areas despite shorter business hours.

Japan's health ministry said Tuesday that 23 of its employees violated guidelines by attending a late-night party in Tokyo.

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The government officials tasked with the nation's COVID-19 response "betrayed the people's trust" by partying until midnight last week in Tokyo's Ginza district, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said, according to the Japan Times and Kyodo News.

Restaurants and bars in Tokyo are required to close by 9 p.m., reports said.

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