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Olympic torch relay rerouted after spike in Osaka coronavirus cases

Olympic torch relay rerouted after spike in Osaka coronavirus cases
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Tokyo's Olympic Committee on Wednesday canceled a leg of the torch relay scheduled to travel through Osaka, citing a rise in COVID-19 infections in the prefecture.

Organizers indicated that events would be held in a public park rather than on city streets, where onlookers would have gathered to watch the relay as it passed, according to The Associated Press.

“Given the circumstances, the Osaka Prefectural authorities today requested Tokyo 2020 to hold the Osaka segment of the Olympic torch relay in Expo ’70 Commemorative Park rather than on public roads,” said the organizers.

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The decision reportedly came in response to a surge of COVID-19 infections that has threatened to overwhelm hospital capacity in Osaka, forcing local officials to declare a health emergency Wednesday. Health officials reported 878 new COVID-19 cases across the prefecture Tuesday, outpacing Tokyo.

“Medical systems [in Osaka] are on the verge of collapse,” Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said, according to the AP, while blaming the surge on a new strain of the virus. “Obviously [the new strain] spreads more rapidly and it is more contagious.”

“It is almost certain that this mutant strain is highly contagious with a high transmission speed,” he added, according to Reuters. “I would like to ask all residents of Osaka prefecture to refrain from going out unnecessarily. The medical system is in a very tight situation.”

Yoshimura last week called on the Olympic Committee to cancel the relay.

Japan's government has gone forward with plans to host the Olympics this summer after initially postponing them in 2020, while taking steps to cut down on crowd sizes at the Games and banning all foreign spectators from the events.

The country's vaccination rollout has lagged behind the U.S. and some other nations, and much of Japan's general public is not expected to have access to the vaccine until July.