Next year's Olympics will be cancelled if pandemic not over: Games chief

Next year's Olympics will be cancelled if pandemic not over: Games chief

Medical workers treat a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient in the ICU of St. Marianna Medical U
FILE PHOTO: Medical workers treat a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient in the ICU of St. Marianna Medical University Hospital in Kawasaki, Japan April 23, 2020, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

TOKYO: The postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be cancelled if the coronavirus pandemic is not brought under control by next year, the organising committee's president said in comments published Tuesday (Apr 28).

The pandemic has already forced a year-long delay of the Games, which are now scheduled to open on Jul 23, 2021, but Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori said no further postponement was possible.

In an interview with Japan's Nikkan Sports daily, Mori was categorical when asked if the Olympics could be delayed until 2022 if the pandemic remains a threat next year, replying: "No."

"In that case, it's cancelled," Mori said.

Mori said the Games - which Japan had already spent US$13 billion preparing for - had been cancelled previously only during wartime and compared the battle against coronavirus to "fighting an invisible enemy".

If the virus is successfully contained, "we'll hold the Olympics in peace next summer", he added. "Mankind is betting on it."

READ: Postponed Tokyo Olympics to open Jul 23 next year

Under heavy pressure from athletes and sports associations, Japanese organisers and the International Olympic Committee agreed in March to a year-long postponement of the Games.

Organisers and Japanese officials have said the delayed Olympics will be a chance to showcase the world's triumph over the coronavirus, but questions have arisen about whether even a year's postponement is sufficient.

On Tuesday, the head of Japan Medical Association warned it would be "exceedingly difficult" to hold the Games next year if a vaccine had not been found.

"I am not saying that Japan should or shouldn't host the Olympics, but that it would be difficult to do so," JMA president Yoshitake Yokokura said in a media briefing.

READ: Commentary: The eye-watering costs of postponing the Tokyo Olympics

Yokokura also called on Japan to increase coronavirus testing, which he said was not widespread enough to judge whether infection rates in the country were falling. 

He aslo blamed a lack of gowns and other protecting clothing for the spread of the virus in hospitals.

As the outbreak has spread around the world, infecting almost 3 million people and killing more than 200,000, experts have warned that the fight against the virus could be prolonged.

READ: Olympics delay a blow for virus-hit Tokyo hotels

Laboratories in several countries are working on vaccines to protect people against the novel coronavirus and drugs to treat its symptoms. 

The need to conduct exhaustive clinical trials to test their effectiveness and safety, however, means it could be months before they are widely available.

Tokyo on Monday confirmed 39 new coronavirus infections, the fewest since March 30. Japan as a whole has recorded 13,614 confirmed cases, including 394 deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Japan's cases and deaths are still small compared to other nations, but critics say the country isn't doing enough testing to reveal the scope of the problem that has driven some hospitals to the brink.

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Source: Reuters/AFP/aj