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Japan virus expert Kentaro Iwata 'pessimistic' Olympics can be held in 2021

AFP-Jiji, Jiji

A Japanese expert who has criticized the country’s response to COVID-19 warned Monday that he is “pessimistic” over whether it will be possible to hold the postponed Olympics even in 2021.

“To be honest with you I don’t think the Olympics is likely to be held next year,” said Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University.

Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed last month to delay the Tokyo 2020 Games until July 2021, after pressure from athletes and sports federations.

But in recent days, as the new coronavirus pandemic has continued to spread worldwide, there have been questions about whether even a yearlong delay will be sufficient.

The cumulative number of confirmed cases in Japan of infection with the novel coronavirus reached 11,531 on Monday morning, including those who had been aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The figure as of 10 a.m. was up by 3,414 from a week before, while the country’s death toll linked to the virus had risen by 101 to 251.

“Holding (the) Olympics needs two conditions: one, controlling COVID-19 in Japan and (two) controlling COVID-19 everywhere — because you have to invite the athletes and the audience from all over the world,” Iwata told journalists at a news briefing.

“Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer, I wish we could, but I don’t think that would happen everywhere on Earth, so in this regard I’m very pessimistic about holding the Olympics Games next summer,” he added.

Iwata said he could only see the games being held next year if they were significantly altered, “such as no audience, or very limited participation.”

Iwata hit the headlines earlier this year for his public criticism of Japan’s handling of COVID-19 infections aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that docked off the country’s coast.

Japanese officials opted to carry out an on-ship quarantine, but more than 700 people on board ended up contracting the virus and 13 have died.

The decision to postpone the Olympics is unprecedented in peacetime, and followed a wave of complaints from athletes facing travel bans and lockdowns.

The postponement is a huge undertaking, but organizers have insisted they are working towards the new opening date despite ongoing uncertainty about when the pandemic will be over.

There is “no Plan B,” Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya told reporters at an online briefing on last week.

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