“The Olympic Flame Touch Ceremony will be held without the presence of spectators and will be attended by only 100 guests with accreditation from the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee,” the Greek committee said in a statement.
The group came to the conclusion after “taking into account the latest decisions of the Greek Government on the protection of public health due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” the name for this strain of the coronavirus, which has affected more than 100,000 people and killed more than 3,800 worldwide as it continues spreading.
This will be the first time that the lighting, which takes place at the ancient stadium in the town where the games originated, has excluded spectators since 1984, The Washington Post reported. That’s the year Greek Olympic officials protested the decision by organizers of the Games in Los Angeles to sell participation in the torch relay, according to the Hellenic Olympic Committee website. The ceremony typically attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.
The dress rehearsal on Wednesday will also be closed to spectators, the committee said.
There also has been talk of postponing the 2020 Olympics amid the coronavirus. Japan’s Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto said last week that the contract to hold the Tokyo Games only specifies the event is to be held during 2020, not that it must begin on July 24 as planned. As of Sunday, Japan has confirmed 455 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths.
The torch lighting is among a growing number of public gatherings to be altered or canceled as health officials discourage vulnerable populations from gathering in large crowds. The BNP Paribas Open, a major tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, was canceled Monday, as was the South by Southwest media and arts festival in Austin, Texas, on Friday.