If you're travelling to Tokyo for the Olympics this summer, this news will be important for you. On Tuesday, Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s Olympic Minister, informed parliament members about how their contract with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) "calls for the Games to be held within 2020", which "could be interpreted as allowing a postponement".
How has Japan handled the coronavirus outbreak?
Japan has been under a lot of international pressure as of late after they were heavily criticized for their handling of the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantine. Currently, Japan has over 1000 cases of confirmed coronavirus, with about 706 estimated to be from the cruise liner. So far, 12 people have died from the virus, 6 of whom were from the Diamond Princess.
There are, however, concerns that the number of coronavirus cases in Japan could be higher than reported, with experts questioning the country's approach to COVID-19 testing. Japan’s infection numbers are likely higher, and what makes this evident in neighbouring South Korea. Infections in South Korea are dramatically higher. More than 6000 cases were confirmed after the government decided to test thousands of people as a part of their mass screening drive. In contrast, the Japanese government says it has the capacity to carry out 3,800 tests a day, but only 8,111 tests had been administered as of March 4th, according to the country's Health Ministry.
With their hands seemingly full, it’s realistic to think that Japan would want a postponement for the Tokyo Olympics. Only, it isn't their call to make.
The IOC's stance on the Tokyo Olympics
In a news conference on Wednesday, IOC president Thomas Bach noted that “neither the word cancellation nor the word postponement was even mentioned” in the second day of executive board meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland.
When he was asked about how he could be so confident that the games would go ahead as scheduled, he replied “because we talk to experts” referring to a meeting between the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director-general and other leading officials last Friday. Japanese sports and public officials, as well as officials from the WHO and the IOC, created a task force in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 and have been working together on the problem for around three weeks.
With follow up questions regarding postponement deadlines and what their stance would be in light of the WHO declaring this a pandemic, Bach was consistent in stating “I will not add fuel to the flame of speculation” and “I will not take part in any way of such kind of mere speculations”.
While the IOC stands affirmed in their stance, it’s hard to tell how athletes and other host nations will respond. It’s important to note that hours after the IOC press conference in Lausanne, in bordering Italy, schools and universities were shut down as a precaution against the virus. Additionally, fans were barred from watching any live sporting events in the country until April 3rd.
Learn more about COVID-19
As of today, there are over 100,000 cases of confirmed COVID-19 worldwide, with 3412 having died from it. If you’re not sure if you should be travelling during the COVID-19 outbreak, we wrote a great piece about it where we polled hundreds of travellers and asked them the same question. A lot of them are unafraid to travel, and according to them, misinformation is a big reason why. In the article, we also provide you with good to know facts about COVID-19 including case fatality rates and how this virus spreads compared to SARS, MERS, and the common flu.