Japanese coronavirus cases top 1,000, govt insists Olympics plans on track

Thursday, 5 March 2020 01:33 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A woman wearing a face mask, following an outbreak of the coronavirus, is seen on a street in Tokyo, Japan - Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters): The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Japan topped the 1,000 mark yesterday, mostly from the Diamond Princess cruise liner, as the Government reiterated that plans to host the Tokyo Olympics in July remained on track.

Five new infections were reported as of Wednesday afternoon, in locations from Yamaguchi prefecture in the west to Hokkaido in the north, underlining the virus’ spread across the country and raising questions about whether the Olympics can go ahead.

The new cases push the total in Japan over the 1,000 mark, according to a Reuters calculation, of which 706 are from the Diamond Princess liner. A total of 12 have died, of which six were from the Diamond Princess, the health ministry said.

The Government’s top spokesman said Japan would go ahead in preparing to host the Olympics as planned, amid speculation they could be postponed because of the coronavirus threat.

“We would steadily proceed with our preparations while closely coordinating with the IOC (the International Olympic Committee) and the organising committee,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a regular news conference.

The Olympics are scheduled to open in less than five months and IOC head Thomas Bach on Tuesday reiterated his backing for this summer’s Games despite the coronavirus threat, urging athletes to prepare “full steam.”

Still, there are worries the Games could be postponed or even cancelled. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has asked schools to close this month, companies are encouraging employees to work from home and sporting events are being cancelled or played in empty arenas. Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto fuelled concerns about a delay, saying on Tuesday that Tokyo’s contract with the IOC “could be interpreted as allowing a postponement” until the end of the year, although she reiterated the government remained committed to the Games starting on 24 July.

Hashimoto also indicated the end of May could be a key date for making any decisions related to a possible cancellation.

Masa Takaya, a Tokyo 2020 organising committee spokesman, said yesterday that the Government had clarified its commitment for the Games to proceed, and there was no deadline on a decision whether to postpone.

“We have been informed from the Olympic minister that she is absolutely on the same page and the Games will go ahead as planned.”

The head of the World Health Organization said he had confidence in Japan’s efforts and hoped for progress, but that the WHO was watching developments and talking with the IOC.