By Karolos Grohmann
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) – Crowds will be smaller and receptions have been scrapped at the Tokyo 2020 torch lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia, Greece next week as the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) introduced measures to protect against the coronavirus, it said on Tuesday.
The torch lighting in Olympia, which marks the start of a relay that will end with the opening ceremony on July 24 in Tokyo, will be held at the site of the ancient Olympic Games on March 12.
Following a seven-day relay in Greece there will be a handover ceremony in Athens to Japan on March 19.
Greek torchlighting organizers said the dress rehearsal the day before, which usually attracts crowds, will be held without spectators while accreditations have been trimmed to the bare minimum and receptions and lunches scrapped.
“In addition, it was also decided that every two days there will be analysis and study of data and considering the situation, starting on Thursday, a new meeting will be held to make decisions with regards to the Olympic Flame ceremonies,” the HOC said in a statement.
The coronavirus, which started in China, has infected tens of thousands of people and killed more than 3,000. It has spread to about 77 other nations and territories.
It has also forced the cancellation of countless sports events in recent weeks and raised alarm bells for Tokyo Games organizers.
However, the International Olympic Committee insists the Games will go on and will be successful.
Greece has seven confirmed cases of the virus. All patients are being treated in hospitals in Athens, the capital, and the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. Greece confirmed its first case of the virus on Feb. 26.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond)