IMAGE: Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo removes his face mask at a press conference in Tokyo, April 7, 2020, where he announced a state of emergency. Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool via Reuters
It will be impossible to host the Tokyo Olympic Games next year unless the coronavirus pandemic is contained, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday.
The International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government postponed the Games last month until July 2021 because of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
With the epidemic’s worldwide infection rate climbing and experts suggesting a vaccine is still a long way off, questions are being asked about whether the huge setpiece event might need to be delayed further.
“We’ve been saying the Olympic and Paralympic Games must be held in a complete form, in that athletes and spectators can all participate safely. It would be impossible to hold the Games in such a complete form unless the coronavirus pandemic is contained,” said Abe.
He was replying to a query from an opposition lawmaker whether Tokyo could host the Games next year, after this year’s delay caused by the pandemic.
Tokyo confirmed 112 new infections on Tuesday, said national broadcaster NHK. Numbers for Wednesday were not yet available. The national tally stands at 13,895 infections, including 413 deaths, according to NHK.
That tally is still low compared to other nations, but critics say Japan is not doing enough testing to reveal the scope of a problem that has driven some hospitals to the brink.
“When we look at what we face now, we must brace for a protracted battle against the pandemic … We will be in close contact with the IOC, the Tokyo organising committee and the Tokyo gubernatorial government,” said Abe.
He added that the Olympics “must be held in a way that shows the world has won its battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Otherwise, it will be hard to hold the Games.”
The comments echoed statements made by other senior Japanese officials earlier this week.
Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori told a sports daily Nikkan Sports on Tuesday that the Games would be ‘scrapped’ if they could not take place in 2021. Also on Tuesday, the head of the Japan Medical Association (JMA), Yoshitake Yokokura, told a news briefing that ‘unless an effective vaccine is developed, I expect hosting the Olympics will be difficult’.