FUKUOKA -- The Olympic torch relay scheduled in the southwest Japan prefecture of Fukuoka could be canceled entirely following the Japanese government's decision to add the area to the prefectures under a coronavirus state of emergency.
The Fukuoka Prefectural Government announced on May 6 that it would cancel the torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics on public roads in a total of seven cities and towns, judging that the risk of coronavirus infections was unavoidable due to the possibility of spectators gathering. However, after this announcement, the central government decided to add Fukuoka Prefecture to areas covered by the emergency declaration, making it difficult to carry out the relay in the region.
A total of 20 cities, towns and villages in the prefecture were scheduled to host the relay on May 11 and 12. The prefectural government announced that instead of holding the relay on public roads, runners from Fukuoka, Itoshima, Kurume, Dazaifu, and Shime will participate in a ceremony at the Heiwadai track and field stadium in Fukuoka on the first day, and run the track course. On the second day, runners from Iizuka and Keisen will participate in a ceremony in front of Kanmon Strait Museum in Kitakyushu, but they are not expected to run with torches. The ceremony in Fukuoka will be held without spectators, while the one in Kitakyushu will be limited to 500 people.
In response to the spread of the coronavirus, the prefectural government had requested the central government to apply quasi-emergency virus measures in the cities of Fukuoka and Kurume. The prefectural government had been planning to cancel the torch relay on public roads in these two cities, but five other cities and towns have also requested cancellations.
At an extraordinary press conference on May 6, Fukuoka Gov. Seitaro Hattori said, "We wanted to respect the participants' wishes to run in areas they are acquainted with, but I have to accept the decision of the municipalities considering the risk of infections."
Later, however, it was reported that the national government would include Fukuoka Prefecture in areas covered by the state of emergency, and Hattori, when interviewed again, stated that he thinks it would be difficult to hold the torch relay in the prefecture entirely regardless of whether it is held on public roads or not.
(Japanese original by Muneyoshi Mitsuda, Kyushu News Department)