Japan committed to hosting Olympics on schedule even as virus spreads
TOKYO – Japan's Olympics minister signalled the Summer Games would go ahead as planned from July even as the coronavirus outbreak spread to new parts of the country.
"Based on the fact that the IOC never mentioned about cancelling or postponing the Tokyo Games at its meeting yesterday, I don't expect a cancellation notice or anything of that sort," Seiko Hashimoto said in parliament on Thursday.
The minister had caused controversy earlier this week by saying the contract for the games "could be interpreted as allowing a postponement" within calendar 2020.
Japan's western prefecture of Shiga reported its first coronavirus infection on Thursday, a day after the announcement of a first case in the southern prefecture of Miyazaki.
National broadcaster NHK also reported new coronavirus infections in Kyoto, Sapporo and Niigata.
Confirmed cases had risen to 1,036 nationwide as of Thursday morning, 36 more than the previous day, according to NHK. That was the biggest one-day increase to date.
The rapid spread of the virus has raised questions about whether Tokyo can host the Olympics as scheduled from July 24, with the effects being felt by other sporting events.
On Wednesday, the Japanese Rugby Football Union announced that next month's Asia Sevens Invitational, which doubles as a test event for rugby sevens at the Tokyo Olympics, has been cancelled due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
The Tokyo marathon was held this month without the participation of non-elite runners, and with fewer volunteers and spectators.
Twelve people have died from the disease in Japan, according to the health ministry.
Hashimoto told the upper house on Thursday that organisers and the IOC would continue to work together closely, and reiterated the final decision on holding the games as planned rests with the IOC.
"Cancellation or delay of the Games would be unacceptable for the athletes," Hashimoto said. "An environment where athletes can feel at ease and focus should be firmly prepared."
Under the host city contract, the IOC has the right to terminate the contract if it has reasonable grounds to believe the safety of the Games would be seriously threatened.
But IOC head Thomas Bach on Wednesday voiced confidence the Games would go ahead, saying organisers were receiving expert information from the World Health Organization and others and that the words "postponement" and "cancellation" had not been mentioned at the IOC's executive board meeting.
Some Tokyo residents, however, expressed concerns.
“I think the Olympics should be cancelled in this case because it is a dangerous situation," 77-year-old Yufumi Tamaki told Reuters on Thursday. "I feel sorry for the athletes and the people who have prepared for the Games, but it is more important to save lives.”
Organizers have made provisions to cancel Tokyo 2020 in the event of a massive earthquake or other natural disaster, Japan's Mainichi newspaper reported.Reuters