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Coronavirus

Osaka leg of Olympic torch relay to be canceled on COVID surge

Japan tightens restrictions in three prefectures to slow infections

People stroll down the usually bustling Dotonbori amusement district of Osaka. The city has been hit by a spike in coronavirus infections.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- The section of the Tokyo Olympic torch relay through the city of Osaka is set to be canceled over a resurgence in coronavirus infections in Japan's second largest urban center.

"My understanding is that the Osaka leg was scrapped as a result of discussions between the Tokyo Olympics' organizing committee and the city organizers for the relay," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Thursday.

The torch had been scheduled to pass through Osaka on April 14. But Osaka Prefecture, along with two neighboring prefectures, are slated to enact new anti-coronavirus measures starting Monday after logging a new increase in cases over the last several days.

"The virus is spreading very quickly," said Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui. "It's regrettable, but we should reconsider holding the torch relay."

The city of Osaka is located in a prefecture with the same name. Its governor, Hirofumi Yoshimura, added: "We will finalize our official stance soon, which we will communicate to the Olympics' organizers."

According to coronavirus guidelines issued by the games' organizers, the torch relay may be suspended on public roads in areas that are under a state of emergency or other coronavirus restrictions.

The Osaka organizers stressed that no decision had yet been made. The organizers plan to respect local authorities' decisions regarding the relay. Osaka could still host an event without an audience to mark its planned section of the relay.

The Japanese government on Thursday designated Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures as areas requiring stronger anti-COVID-19 measures amid a sharp resurgence in infections.

The government will ask restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m., and the measures will be effective from April 5 for one month.

It will provide subsidies to businesses in line with the scale of their operation, having previously given the same amount of compensation to all establishments regardless of size. The government had been criticized for not considering the level of sales, resulting in some restaurants ignoring the request.

The move comes as the number of new cases in Osaka exceeded that in Tokyo for the third straight day. Some 616 people in the western Japanese prefecture were confirmed to have been infected, while 475 new cases were recorded in the capital.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday that the scheme will be tailored to the scale of the business.

Suga said that "the area and period will be limited, and intensive measures will be taken to prevent [issuing] a state of emergency and stop the spread of infection."

The measures are based on a law enacted in February following a sharp rebound in infections.

This is the first time for the measures to be implemented. Unlike a state of emergency that covers the entire prefecture, governors have the authority to choose the cities and towns subject to the stronger measures.

The city of Osaka and nearby Kobe, Ashiya, Nishinomiya and Amagasaki in western Japan as well as Sendai in northeastern Japan will be named.

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