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Japan prefecture changes plans for Olympic torch relay due to COVID-19



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By Chie Kobayashi, Tokyo, May 28 (CNN): Japan's Chiba prefecture, which lies east of the capital Tokyo, has become the latest prefecture to alter plans for the Olympic torch relay.

Chiba's relay section was originally scheduled to take place along the streets of 21 cities and towns at the start of June -- but Gov. Toshihito Kumagai said Thursday the event would instead be taken off the road and changed to a “torch lighting ceremony.”

"The whole Chiba prefecture is still under the situation that people are asked to refrain from nonessential going out," he said. "Having runners has a risk of causing people’s movement and spreading the virus."

The torch relay began its 121-day domestic journey from Fukushima to Tokyo on March 25. But it has since seen numerous other cancelations and alterations to the plan, as Japan struggles to contain its Covid-19 cases amid a slow vaccine uptake.

The western region of Osaka canceled its torch event in April as cases began spiking. The torchbearers were no longer able to run through public streets as had been planned -- instead, the relay took place behind closed doors.

The Games are scheduled to start on July 23, though there have been growing calls from doctors and communities to cancel the event entirely.

Japan will decide Friday whether to extend a state of emergency across much of the country.