Japan is still preparing to host the Olympics, Shinzo Abe has said, despite growing concern about the viability of the summer Games because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Japan’s prime minister and his government have been adamant that the Olympics will go ahead, even as other global sporting events have been put on hold. Speculation about a delay of the July start date has grown since the Donald Trump said organisers should consider a one-year postponement.
Abe and Trump held a call after those comments, prompting the the US president to say on Twitter that the Olympic venue was magnificent. This may not, however, be enough to assuage the Games’ sponsors, who are increasingly nervous about the impact of the outbreak on the competition.
The Olympic Torch relay is due to start in the Japanese prefecture of Fukushima in less than two weeks. Thetorch’s tour through Greece has already been cut short.
“We will overcome the spread of the infection and host the Olympics without problem as planned,” and delaying them was “not a subject at all” in his call with Trump, Abe told a news conference in Tokyo
He said Japan was working closely with the International Olympic Committee, which will have the final say on whether the Games go ahead, and the World Health Organization, suggesting he accepted that the ultimate decision does not rest with Tokyo.
He also said Japan had a relatively low coronavirus infection rate and had not experienced an explosion in cases as South Korea, China, Italy and Iran had. He said delaying the peak of infections was vital to ensure treatment of those in critical condition.
Abe said Japan did not need to declare a national emergency, although parliament approved a bill on Friday to give him emergency powers and allow him to close schools, halt large gatherings and requisition medical supplies.
The Tokyo governor, Yuriko Koike, promised thorough measures against the coronavirus outbreak and said preparations for a safe and secure Games were progressing.
Greece’s Olympic Committee cancelled the remainder of the torch relay through the country on Friday to avoid attracting crowds. The relay through Japan is scheduled to start on 26 March.
Japan recorded 21 new coronavirus cases as of Saturday, bringing the total 1,443. Twenty-eight people have died, the public broadcaster NHK reported.
The total number of infections include 697 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and 14 returnees on chartered flights from China, according to NHK. Japan’s fatalities also included those from the ship.