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The Japanese national flag waves next to an altar with the Olympic flame of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, following the cancellation of the torch relay as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS/Reuters

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics flame handover ceremony in Athens this week will be a scaled-down event with only a few Tokyo Games officials and torch bearers inside the stadium to protect everyone from the coronavirus, the Hellenic Olympic Committee said on Monday.

The handover ceremony usually attracts thousand of spectators, officials and ceremony participants in the central Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium, site of the first modern Olympics in 1896.

They will traditionally cheer as the last Greek torch enters the stadium after a one-week domestic relay, for the official handover to the next Olympic Games host city.

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This time round, however, it will just be a handful of actresses playing the roles of ancient Greek Priestesses, a small Tokyo Games delegation and four torch relay runners – two Greek and two Japanese – in the marble stadium that can seat up to 50,000.

“The Handover Ceremony will take place in the presence of the President of the Hellenic Republic... and of a small delegation of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee,” the HOC said in a statement.

“There will be a dance of the priestesses that will not exceed the number of 10, and a torch relay of two Greek torchbearers and two Japanese torchbearers, that will take place inside the Panathenaic Stadium.”

The stadium, as previously announced, will be closed to the public to stem the spread of the virus.

Greece last week cancelled the remainder of the domestic Olympic torch relay through the country to avoid attracting crowds a day after the Tokyo Games flame was lit in ancient Olympia.

Greece has had four fatalities from the disease and more than 300 cases by Monday.

Japan is still preparing to host the Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday, despite rising global concern about the viability of the summer Games due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Abe and his government as well as the International Olympic Committee have been adamant the July 24-Aug 9 Games will go ahead, even as other global sporting events have been put on hold.

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