TOKYO (Reuters) – A respected Japanese virologist said on Wednesday that if the Tokyo Olympics are tomorrow, the games are unlikely to be held because of the rapid growth of the Wuhan coronavirus in China.
"We need to find the best way to have a safe Olympics," said Hitoshi Oshitani, speaking at Japan's Foreign Correspondents Club. "We currently don't have an effective strategy, and I think it can be difficult to have the Olympics (now). But by the end of July, we may be in a different situation. ”
The local organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics and the International Olympic Committee have said several times in recent weeks that they are following the advice of the World Health Organization and that the games will continue.
But with each passing day, the impact of the virus seems to spread, and so do the consequences: Olympic qualifying events are canceled or postponed, travel is difficult and athletes and families are left wondering. Not to mention sponsors and broadcast networks that have invested billions of dollars in the Olympics.
The modern Olympics, dating from 1896, were canceled only during the war and, in 1980 and 1984, continued with boycotts.
Oshitani, a former WHO consultant who worked on the SARS outbreak for almost 20 years, was hopeful, but created some uncertainty about July 24-August. 9 Olympics.
"I'm not sure (of) the situation in Japan at the end of July," he said, responding in English. "But we probably won't have any major outbreaks in Japan in July."
Oshitani said he was more concerned about a "Wuhan" type outbreak occurring in Africa or other parts of Asia and cases imported into Japan. He said that if that happened "it could be difficult to have" the Olympics. But he also suggested that Japan could handle this.
"So what we have to do now is try to prevent that from happening," he added. He said the Japanese government should support countries so that they do not have "this kind of situation".
The viral outbreak has infected more than 75,000 people worldwide. China recorded 2,004 deaths among 74,185 cases on the continent, mainly in central Hubei province
Earlier this week, Shigeru Omi, a former WHO regional director and specialist in infectious diseases in Japan, also said he was unsure about the Olympics.
"Whether the outbreak will last until the Olympic date or not depends on the virus and the social effort and the joint international community," he said at a news conference. “Nobody can predict whether we can contain the virus or end this outbreak before the Olympics start. That is an unknown. "
He added that it was not a "big question mark, but there is a question mark".
The highlights are 19 test events that Japan will hold at the beginning of next month, a chance for organizers to practice in competition mode and an opportunity for potential Olympic athletes to check out Japan
In a cancellation on Wednesday, the Kyodo news agency reported that the Mongolian archery team had left a training camp in central Aichi Prefecture, Japan.
Dozens of sporting events were canceled across Asia after the outbreak, including next month's world athletics championship in Nanjing, China, and the April Chinese Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Organizers announced last week that the Tokyo Marathon scheduled for March 1 will be limited to elite runners and wheelchair athletes. About 38,000 were expected to participate in one of the biggest races in the world.
AP Tokyo correspondent Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report
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