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Olympic flame lighting ceremony to be held under virus lockdown

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Coronavirus fears and a local outbreak of the deadly disease are forcing authorities to take unprecedented measures at Thursday's Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

[OLYMPIA, Greece] Coronavirus fears and a local outbreak of the deadly disease are forcing authorities to take unprecedented measures at Thursday's Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

After dozens of people tested positive for Covid-19 in the broader western Peloponnese, the Greek Olympic Committee on Monday said the ceremony would be held without spectators.

Only 100 accredited guests from the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee compared to 700 originally will be allowed to attend Thursday's event in Olympia, where the ancient Games were held.

And a dress rehearsal scheduled for Wednesday will also be closed to the public.

The committee had earlier cancelled all event dinners and galas.

In 1984, the Greek leg of the torch relay was scrapped in a protest by Greek organisers against the commercialisation of the Los Angeles Olympics.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has cancelled plans to visit but the state will be represented by President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a day before his term ends.

Olympia mayor Yiorgos Georgiopoulos said the move has "disastrous" consequences for local operators, though the government has pledged to help cover financial losses.

"The tourism high point at ancient Olympia is during this period," the mayor told AFP. "Room cancellations are multiplying and (tourism sector) professionals are desperate," he said.

The Greek health ministry last week announced a "suspension of all mass gatherings" at theatres, cinemas, museums and sports events in the Peloponnese regions of Achaia and Elis and the island of Zakynthos through Friday.

The measures came after a 66-year-old man was hospitalised with the virus at a hospital in Patras, western Greece.

He remains in critical condition. The patient was part of a group of Holy Land pilgrims who travelled to Israel and Egypt last month.

Almost all developed the virus, as have several of their close contacts.

The flame for Tokyo 2020 is scheduled to be lit with a traditional ceremony and following a torch relay in Greece will be handed to the Tokyo organisers at another ceremony on March 19 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.

In a statement, Tokyo 2020 said that it would "reduce the size of its travelling delegation as much as possible".

The torch relay in Greece will pass through 37 cities and 15 archaeological sites covering 3,500 kilometres and 842 nautical miles and will be carried by 600 runners.

Greek Olympic shooting champion Anna Korakaki will be the first torch bearer, the first time a woman has been chosen to fulfil the role.

Korakaki has called the assignment an "immense honour" and says she hopes to be "the first in a long line of women" to do likewise.

AFP