The aircraft carrying the Olympic flame arrived at Japan Air Self-Defence Force’s Matsushima base, Kyodo news agency said on Friday (March 20), as concerns growth whether the Games will go ahead as planned this summer amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Japanese government has said it is determined to hold a “safe and secure” Tokyo Olympics on schedule, after US President Donald Trump suggested a one-year delay because of the pandemic.
The plane with the torch arrived nearly empty after the Tokyo 2020 organising committee decided not to send a high-level delegation that was originally to have included its chief, Yoshiro Mori, and Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto.
The arrival ceremony at the base, which will have no spectators, is scheduled to start later on Friday morning.
The flame will tour the Tohoku region hit by the tsunami and earthquake, in what the organizers call a “recovery flame” tour until the official kick-off ceremony in Fukushima on March 26.
Organisers have urged the public not to crowd the relay route, cancelled many events along the way and have restricted public access to others.
Runners and staff will have their temperature and health monitored, the organisers said.
The torch relay in Greece was cancelled to avoid drawing crowd.
Some athletes, including reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, said the International Olympic Committee’s decision to go ahead with preparations was putting their health at risk when entire countries have shut down to curb the spread of the virus.
The relay is due to pass many of Japan’s most famous landmarks over a 121-day journey, including Mount Fuji, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Kumamoto Castle.