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Editorial: As Japan's Olympic torch relay begins, focus on safety will spark hope

The torch relay for the Tokyo Olympic Games has begun, though concerns of a coronavirus resurgence surround its launch.

    The biggest issue at hand is preventing the spread of infections. Organizers should adopt a flexible approach based on the state of infections, being prepared to suspend the relay or alter its course.

    The Olympic flame is set to pass through all 47 of Japan's prefectures. Around 10,000 relay runners will carry the torch before it is finally jogged into the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo, where the Olympic cauldron will be lit in the games' opening ceremony on July 23.

    The 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games were initially intended as a symbol of the nation's recovery from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. But due to the spread of the coronavirus, they were delayed for one year, and people began to stress the games would be a testimony to the nation's successful struggle to overcome the pandemic, leaving the original cause to fade.

    Ten years have passed since the quake and tsunami that triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but still there are people unable to return to their homes, and the reconstruction effort remains a work in progress. How do the people who were affected by the disasters view the Tokyo Games?

    A ceremony to mark the start of the Olympic torch relay was held at J-Village, a soccer training facility in Fukushima Prefecture in Japan's northeastern Tohoku region. There, Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games President Seiko Hashimoto stated, "We pay our sincere respects to the indomitable spirit of the people of Tohoku."

    The ceremony was not open to the general public, and measures were taken to cut the number of guests by more than half. All sections of the relay are set to be livestreamed online. If too many people gather along any section of the route, organizers apparently could decide to cancel that portion of the relay.

    Several celebrities have already dropped out as relay runners due to schedule clashes or concerns about crowds gathering. Shimane Gov. Tatsuya Maruyama, meanwhile, pointed out insufficiencies in measures to prevent coronavirus infections, and declared that he would consider suspending the mid-May relay leg through the western Japan prefecture.

    Organizers must seriously accept the uneasiness and concerns that people have.

    The Olympic Charter states that the games' organizing committee is responsible for bringing the Olympic flame to the Olympic stadium. The Olympic torch relay started in 1936 in Berlin. While links to Nazi political propaganda were pointed out, the relay continued after World War II as an event reflecting the principles of peace.

    At the Tokyo Olympic Games 57 years ago, the Olympic flame crossed countries in Asia for the first time, and made its way through Okinawa, which was still under U.S. control at the time, to the Japanese mainland.

    With the coronavirus crisis continuing, people in Japan have major concerns about holding the Summer Games. Placing top priority on safety is essential to pass on the light of hope.

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