WHO weighing in on coronavirus risk to 2020 Tokyo Olympics

FILE PHOTO : A giant watch for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is pictured in Tokyo, Japan March 16, 2020.
FILE PHOTO : A giant watch for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is pictured in Tokyo, Japan March 16, 2020. © Edgard Garrido, REUTERS

Amid calls to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the head of World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergencies programme on Monday said the organisation was advising authorities on the risks and that a decision would be made “very soon”.

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Speaking to reporters in Geneva Monday, Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO's emergencies programme, said he believed a decision would be made "very soon" regarding the future of the Games.

"We have every confidence the Japanese government and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) would not proceed with any Games if it would be dangerous to athletes and spectators," Ryan said.

His comments came as World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe called for a postponment, saying it is "neither feasible nor desirable" to hold the Games while the world fights the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Coe made the remarks in a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach ahead of an IOC meeting on Sunday. At the meeting, the IOC said it would hold discussions that would include an option of putting back the July 24 start date, or even moving the Games by a year or more. A decision on the Games' future would be made within the next four weeks, it said.

Calls to postpone the Games have risen sharply in the past few days, as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread to country after country. Canada on Sunday announced it would not send teams this summer and Australia told its athletes to instead prepare for the Olympics to take place in 2021.

On Monday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who for weeks has insisted that his country will host the 2020 Olympics in July – conceded that postponing the event may become "inevitable".

US, London 2012 head of health and safety joins chorus

Lawrence Waterman, London 2012's head of health and safety, on Monday also joined the chorus of demands for a postponement.

"These games need to be postponed, and the sooner the IOC and the Japanese government face up to this the better. It's simply not safe to put the games on during a global pandemic," Waterman said in a statement.

"People's safety and health should come before the costs of delaying contracts. The London Games were the first in history to be completed without a single fatality, we set the standard on health and safety at the Olympics.

"Key to that is testing venues with real crowds to iron out problems. That's simply not possible if people are to be two metres apart."

The US has followed suit endorsing a delay in the Games. The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee released a statement saying it had polled athletes and concluded that "the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can't be overcome in a satisfactory manner".

Coronavirus infections have been reported by 192 countries outside China, where the virus originated. More than 337,000 people have been infected across the world and over 14,600 have died.

Japan has over 1,800 confirmed cases with 49 deaths.

"The coronavirus is requiring big sacrifices from us all. The IOC should be no exception," Waterman added.

"However much they want to see the red carpet rolled out for them in Tokyo, the only responsible thing is to postpone the games. They should do so now." 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS) 

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