By Antoni Slodkowski
TOKYO (Reuters) – The president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics organizing committee rebuffed speculation on Wednesday that the Games might be canceled due to deepening concern about the coronavirus outbreak, declaring that was not an option.
“I am totally not considering this,” Yoshiro Mori told reporters at a briefing when asked about a possible cancellation. Asked when the organizers could decide on changes to the Olympics, he said: “I’m not God so I don’t know.”
But Mori, who repeated several times that the only plan right now was to hold the Games as scheduled, also emphasized that the organizers were listening to various opinions and would be flexible.
“The situation changes every day. It changes depending on the place. That’s why we need to respond in a flexible manner,” Mori said.
The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Japan has topped 1,000, 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.
This has fueled worries the Games could be postponed or even canceled. 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 canceled or played in empty arenas.
Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto fueled 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 July 24.
Mori said Hashimoto had told him that her remarks had been misinterpreted and taken out of context.
Mori spoke after a videolink with the board members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), during which he briefed them on measures Tokyo 2020 officials were taking to control the spread of coronavirus during the events in the run up to the Games. The IOC board members are holding a two-day meeting in Lausanne.
Mori said he was “happy” and “encouraged” to hear that IOC President Thomas Bach was confident that the Olympics would begin as scheduled on July 24.
The organizing committee’s CEO, Toshiro Muto, said it will monitor the temperature and the overall health of the runners and staff taking part in the Olympic torch relay which will arrive in Japan on March 20.
Muto said that the details of the ceremonies celebrating its arrival from Greece in the earthquake-struck Miyagi prefecture, as well as the official kick-off in Fukushima on March 26, will be announced in the coming days.
Tokyo 2020 will ask runners feeling unwell to not participate and it may restrict the number of people attending relay events, according to a statement released at the briefing.
The torch will be lit in Olympia, although crowds will be smaller and receptions have been scrapped at the lighting ceremony on March 12 before a seven-day relay in Greece.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Writing by David Dolan and Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Pritha Sarkar)