Japan postponed the Olympic torch relay on Tuesday after the Tokyo 2020 Games were delayed for a year over the coronavirus outbreak, extending what has already been a troubled journey for the ceremonial flame.
The torch, lit earlier this month in Greece, had been due to start its nationwide tour on Thursday from Fukushima, an area devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.
"The Olympic torch relay, which was scheduled to start from 26 March, will not start," Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori told reporters.
Mori said the flame will remain in Fukushima for now, but it was not clear how long it will stay there.
Covid-19 has overshadowed the flame's progress after the elaborate lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia proceeded without spectators, to avoid spreading the disease.
The Greek leg of the torch relay was then scrapped when large crowds mobbed Hollywood actor Gerard Butler as he lit a cauldron in the city of Sparta.
The flame arrived to a muted welcome in northern Japan in front of a few dozen officials and guests, after plans to invite 200 schoolchildren were abandoned.
It has been on display in Japan and attracted large crowds, despite calls from organisers to avoid mass gatherings because of the virus.
Mori said he recognised the decision to postpone the Games would be "very disappointing" for athletes.
"I am sorry about that," he said.
"I also know that athletes have strong spirits able to overcome difficulty. I hope that they will do their best."
He said the Games had been postponed for a year rather than a shorter period because there was no certainty on when the pandemic would be over.
"There are many opinions, and there is no agreement. Will it end in three to four months?" he said.
"Unless the coronavirus (pandemic) ends, we won't be able to even start the torch relay," he added.
"This year is off the table."
Organised under the slogan "Hope Lights Our Way," the torch relay was considered a key part of the bid to showcase recovery in parts of northeastern Japan that were devastated by the 2011 disaster.
Mori pointed to his own health problems - he was diagnosed with cancer - as proof that difficulties can be surmounted.
"We have no choice but to have hope. I myself suffered cancer... But I was saved by a new drug. I am here, allowed to live.
"Let us hope for these things."