Japan PM Abe says postponing Tokyo Olympics an option

An office worker wearing a mask walks past the emblem of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on March 18, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday (March 23) that postponing the Tokyo Olympic Games may become an option if holding the event in "complete form" becomes impossible.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Sunday after an emergency meeting that it is stepping up its "scenario planning" for the Tokyo 2020 Games - including a possible postponement - as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.

Mr Abe said the IOC decision on Sunday was in line with the view that the Tokyo Games should be held in its complete form.

"If that becomes difficult, we may have no option but to consider postponing the Games", given the Olympics' principle of putting the health of athletes first, he told Parliament.

Mr Abe also said cancelling the Games was not an option.

He said he had conveyed his views about the fate of the Olympics to Tokyo Games chief Yoshiro Mori on Sunday evening, who then discussed the issue with IOC President Thomas Bach.

It is better to have a decision as early as possible on whether to postpone the Games, although the final decision is up to the IOC, Mr Abe added.

Under mounting pressure from athletes, federations and national committees to postpone the Games, the IOC did a partial U-turn on Sunday after long insisting, with Tokyo organisers, that the Games would go ahead as planned.

Tokyo 2020 organisers have started drafting alternative dates for the Olympics, sources have told Reuters.

More than 13,000 people have died globally since the coronavirus outbreak began in China late last year, with the epicentre now in Europe.

As of Sunday morning, Japan had 37 deaths and 1,055 coronavirus cases, excluding those from a cruise ship that was quarantined near Tokyo last month and returnees on chartered flights from China, a tally by public broadcaster NHK showed.

Mr Abe said all travellers from the United States, including Japanese citizens, would be asked to go into quarantine for 14 days after their arrival in Japan.

In the US nearly one in three residents has been ordered to stay at home to slow the spread of the flu-like virus as cases nationwide topped 32,000, with more than 415 dead, according to a Reuters tally.

Japan's foreign ministry has advised citizens to avoid non-essential and non-urgent travel to the US.

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