Crowds again greet Olympic flame despite virus concerns

FUKUSHIMA (Reuters) - More than 1,000 people gathered on Tuesday to see the Olympic flame in Japan’s northern city of Fukushima, defying calls from Games organizers looking to rein in a coronavirus pandemic that has fueled doubts whether this year’s event will go ahead.

The flame arrived from Greece last week for a six-day tour meant to showcase the recovery of the areas worst affected in the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami before Thursday’s torch relay, now scaled back because of virus concerns.

The calls for crowds not to gather on the Flame of Recovery tour went unheeded for a fifth straight day, with Tokyo 2020 organizers saying more than 1,000 people turned out to watch the lighting of a special cauldron from the Olympic flame.

“I don’t think there’s tension here, so I wasn’t worried about coming today,” one of them, 64-year-old Ritsuko Takano, told Reuters.

Although Japan has a tally of 1,852 virus infections and 52 deaths, Tuesday’s event was a once in a lifetime opportunity for many Fukushima residents.

“I think each person will come if they want to see it (the Olympic flame),” said 45-year-old Tatsuya Arai. “I think we can’t avoid large crowds.”

Thursday’s scaled-down version of the torch relay will see the Olympic flame carried in a lantern rather than borne by relay runners, a local government official said.

A final decision whether to postpone the Tokyo Olympics because of the virus is to be taken in coming days, sources within the Olympic movement told Reuters.

Reporting by Akira Tomoshige; Writing by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Clarence Fernandez