By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – A plane sporting Tokyo 2020 livery departed Haneda International Airport on Wednesday bound for Athens to collect the Olympic flame, but there was no delegation from organizers onboard due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Tokyo 2020 said it chose not to send the high-level delegation, which was originally set to include organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori and Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto, to Greece due to the coronavirus.
The flu-like virus has killed more than 7,500 people and brought sport to a standstill around the world.
Japan’s ambassador to Greece will receive the flame at a handover ceremony, organizers said. Lower-level Tokyo 2020 officials who traveled to Greece last week will accompany the flame back to Japan.
Some 20 airline and airport staff waved the plane off with very little fanfare at the airport, which was almost empty as travel restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus have lead to widespread flight cancellations.
The Olympic flame will arrive on Japanese soil on Friday at Matushima airbase and be greeted by another low key ceremony.
Despite sporting events being canceled across the world in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Olympics organizers maintain the Games will start as planned on July 24.
The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that it does not plan any “drastic” decisions about the Games, saying it remains fully committed to the event being staged in four months’ time despite the global spread of the coronavirus.
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