Olympic concerns grow over coronavirus impact


Tokyo Olympics organizers on Wednesday said they are increasingly concerned about the disruption the fast-spreading virus in China is causing ahead of the games, which open in just under six months.

Chief Executive Officer Toshiro Muto sounded a grave note speaking at a meeting with officials of the International Paralympic Committee.

“We are extremely worried in the sense that the spread of the infectious virus could pour cold water on momentum for the games,” he said before the meeting.

“I hope that it can be eradicated as quickly as possible. We plan to cooperate with the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the IPC, the government and the city of Tokyo to tackle the disease.”

Saburo Kawabuchi, the mayor of the Athletes’ Village where 11,000 Olympians will stay, showed his apprehension.

“I truly hope that the infectious disease will die down somehow so that we will be able to operate the Paralympics and Olympics smoothly,” the former head of the Japan Football Association said. “In the worst case — we will do our utmost for the athletes so that they will be able to concentrate on performing their best.”

Tokyo organizers have repeatedly said there are no plans to cancel the Olympics. That position has been repeated by the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee.

But the problems deepen with each passing day. Some Olympic qualifying events have been cancelled or relocated. Travel restrictions will add more confusion, and traveling fans are sure to be fearful.

Japan has not reported any deaths from the virus, even as the number of deaths in China rose sharply on Wednesday.

“In Japan, we are facing all sorts of problems including coronavirus infections, cyber security and transportation systems,” Toshiaki Endo, an organizing committee vice president, said on Tuesday at a news conference.

“The IOC is satisfied with our preparations,” he added.

Craig Spence, a spokesman for the Paralympic committee, tried to be reassuring.

“We have full confidence that the relevant authorities, in particular here in Japan and the World Health Organization, will take all the necessary measures to address the situation.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was asked Monday in the Diet about the viral outbreak and the impact on the Olympics. He brushed aside worries, saying that that the country would work with the WHO to ensure preparations would not be disrupted.

He also revealed that Japan was developing rapid test kits for the virus.

“By coordinating our efforts with the WHO and other related agencies, we will take appropriate steps so that preparations to hold the events will steadily continue,” Abe told a parliamentary session.

But Yurkio Koike, the governor of Tokyo, sounded more concerned in recent comments.

“We must firmly tackle the new coronavirus to contain it, or we are going to regret it,” she said, promising “tough measures.”

More than 20 countries have confirmed cases of the pathogen, which has killed nearly 500 people and infected at least 24,000 in mainland China.

The health scare has led to the cancellation of Olympic qualifying events in China such as boxing and badminton.

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