“We are not giving answers to ‘what if’ questions.”
March 2, 2020, 5:42 PM
8 min read
Organizers for the 2020 Summer Olympics said that preparations for the upcoming event in Tokyo are “continuing as planned,” despite rumors swirling that the games could be canceled or postponed due to an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
When asked about the speculation, the press office for the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee told ABC News that they “have never discussed canceling the Games.”
“Countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of our plans to host a safe and secure Games,” the press office said in an emailed statement on Monday.
The newly identified virus, known officially as COVID-19, emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan back in December and has since spread to dozens of other countries, including Japan. More than 87,000 people have been infected worldwide, the vast majority of them in China, and at least 2,873 have died, according to the World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency and said it has “pandemic potential.”
As of Monday, Japan’s Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare had confirmed 254 cases of infection on Japanese soil and six deaths. There have been an additional 705 confirmed cases and six fatalities linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had been quarantined off Japan’s coast since Feb. 5. All those infected on board were brought ashore for treatment, while the rest of the passengers were confined to their rooms until the quarantine period ended. All remaining guests were cleared to disembark by Feb. 27.
To address the health crisis, the Japanese government has established the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters, while the Tokyo metropolitan government has set up an internal task force. The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has also established its own task force.
“Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organizations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases,” the organizing committee’s press office said in its statement Monday, “and we will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organizations.”
The International Olympic Committee told ABC News in an emailed statement on Monday that it remains in touch with the WHO as well as its own medical experts, and that it has “full confidence that the relevant authorities, in particular in Japan and China, will take all the necessary measures to address the situation.”
For weeks, there’s been speculation that the viral outbreak could disrupt the Tokyo Olympics, which is slated to start on July 24.
Since the first modern games were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896, the international sporting event has only been canceled during times of war. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, took place as scheduled despite an outbreak of the Zika virus.
Dick Pound, a former Canadian swimming champion who is now a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, told The Associated Press that organizers are more likely to cancel the event altogether than to postpone or move it to another location. He estimated there’s a two- to three-month window to decide the fate of the games.
“In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?'” Pound said in an exclusive interview last week. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual.”
Faced with a slew of questions during an interview last Thursday limited to Japanese media, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach reiterated that they are “fully committed to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,” and he encouraged athletes to “go ahead with full steam with regard to their training and their preparations.” He declined to speculate about a postponement or cancellation in response to Pound’s comments.
“I’m not ready to add fuel to the flames of speculation there in any way,” Bach told reporters.
ABC News called the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee’s press office on Monday and asked what might happen if the viral outbreak worsens in Japan.
The woman on the other end of the line, who only wished to give her name as Hitomi and confirmed she was authorized to speak on behalf of the organizing committee, simply said, “We are not giving answers to ‘what if’ questions.”
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Reporting by ABC News’ Anthony Trotter in Tokyo, Japan. Writing and additional reporting by ABC News’ Morgan Winsor in London, United Kingdom.
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