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Tokyo Olympics remain on track amid coronavirus outbreak in China

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TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo Olympic organizers and the International Olympic Committee said Friday there is no “Plan B” for the 2020 Games, which open in just over five months and have been jolted by the outbreak of a virus in neighboring China.

The coronavirus has infected almost 64,000 people globally with almost 1,400 deaths in China, but only one in Japan where fear is rising with so much attention focused on the outbreak.

“Certainly the advice we’re received externally from the WHO (World Health Organization) is that there’s no case for any contingency plans or cancelling the Games or moving the Games,” John Coates, the head of an IOC inspection team, said to wrap up a two-day visit that was dominated by the virus issue.

Coates and Tokyo Olympic organizers took 11 questions at a news conference on Friday. All 11 were about the virus, or the presence of Chinese athletes in 19 remaining test events in Japan, or about Chinese fans, or repeated questions seeking reassurance the games will go ahead as planned.

A Japanese reporter asked Tokyo organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori if, given the fact the Games are going ahead, would there be any “organizational changes” in how the Games are run.

“No, at this stage, no. We are not thinking of any such possibility,” said Mori, a former Japanese prime minister, speaking in Japanese.

Mori, Coates and CEO Toshiro Muto looked glum sitting at a head table taking essentially the same question over and over.

“We can confirm that Tokyo 2020 remains on track,” Coates said in his opening statement.

Coates was asked by a CNN reporter if he was 100% confident that the Tokyo Olympics would go on as scheduled and open on July 24.

“Yes,” he replied.

Coates talked positively about keeping a close watch on Chinese athletes, and talked optimistically about their eventual presence in Tokyo, where they would probably field a team of 600 athletes — one of the largest delegations.

“We continue also to monitor, particularly the Chinese that will be coming here,” Coates said. “You’ll find that the Chinese teams are mostly out of China. That’s the athletes and officials.”

He didn’t offer any specific numbers.

Others away from the Olympic circle are uncertain what course the virus outbreak will take.

“Frankly speaking, there is no guarantee that the outbreak will come to an end before the Olympics because we have no scientific basis to be able to say that,” Shigeru Omi, a former regional director of the WHO and an infectious disease expert from Japan, said Thursday.

“So it is meaningless to predict a timing when it may come to an end,” he added. “We should assume that the virus has already been spreading in Japan. People should understand that we cannot only rely on border controls to prevent the spread of the disease.”

Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, told The Associated Press in an email: “I don’t think anyone right now can confidently predict the state of affairs come late summer.”

“One slight word of caution,” he added. “Influenza is regarded as a winter infection in the northern hemisphere. But when we encountered a new strain in 2009-10 — pandemic strain, or swine flu — we did see cases in the summer months.”

That is not particularly good news, where many talk of the hot, humid Tokyo summer taking its toll on the virus.

The AP requested but was declined an interview with Dr. Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical and scientific director who was in Tokyo for the meetings.

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Japan prime minister, Tokyo Olympic organizers monitor coronavirus

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TOKYO (AP) — Concern about the spreading coronavirus outbreak in China and its impact on this year’s Tokyo Olympics reached Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday.

Abe was asked about the virus by an opposition lawmaker, but he brushed aside worries.

“We will respond appropriately,” Abe said, speaking in Japanese, “while closely cooperating with the World Health Organization and other international organizations so that we can proceed with the preparations without letting it affect the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.”

Japan has not reported any fatalities from the outbreak, while China has reported more than 300 deaths from the virus and more than 17,000 cases.

The Olympics open July 24.

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee have said there are no plans to cancel or postpone the Olympics. Tokyo Governor Yurkio Koike has urged vigilance said there will be “regrets” if there isn’t a maximum effort made.

Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto said Tokyo organizers and representatives from local municipalities would meet next week to discuss measures against the virus.

The modern Olympics, dating from 1896, have been called off during wartime and faced boycotts in 1980 and 1984. They have evolved in the last few decades into a multi-billion dollar event with massive investments from television and sponsors.

About 11,000 athletes will attend the Olympics. Many of them still need to qualify and could face qualifying events canceled or postponed if the virus continues to spread outside China.

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MORE: Indoor track worlds, Olympic qualifiers postponed due to virus

Coronavirus wreaks more havoc with sports schedules, including track and field championship

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The World Athletics Indoor Championship, the pinnacle of track and field’s winter season, has been pushed back one year, joining a long list of sports events that have been scrubbed, moved or postponed indefinitely due to the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China.

The indoor championship was scheduled for March 13-15 in Nanjing, China.

World Athletics (formerly the IAAF) considered relocating the event but said it was concerned by the spread of the virus outside China as well. Postponing the biennial event to 2021 also gives Nanjing the opportunity to put its preparation to use.

“The advice from our medical team, who are in contact with the World Health Organisation, is that the spread of the Coronavirus both within China and outside the country is still at a concerning level and no one should be going ahead with any major gathering that can be postponed,” a World Athletics statement said.

Other organizations agree, moving or postponing their own major gatherings, some of them at 2022 Olympic venues and some affecting qualification for the 2020 Games.

Winter X Games: China has hosted the X Games in the summer, but the Feb. 21-23 competition at the Olympic venue of Genting Resort Secret Garden in Chongli was due to be the first Winter X Games in the country. The event is in limbo after organizers announced its postponement earlier this week.

Alpine skiing World Cup: Another event that would have taken place at an Olympic venue and would have been the first of its kind in China was scrubbed on Wednesday. The course in Yanqing, China, was due to host a men’s downhill and super-G Feb. 15-16. The FIS hopes to bring the men’s World Cup circuit to Yanqing next season, along with women’s races that are already on the schedule.

Olympic boxing qualifiers: Originally set for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan, the epicenter of China’s coronavirus crisis, the Asia-Oceania boxing qualifiers will be held March 3-11 in Amman, Jordan.

Olympic women’s soccer qualifiers: The women’s soccer qualification tournament also was originally set to start Feb. 3 in Wuhan. The event was originally moved to Nanjing but then moved to Sydney, Australia, a move just announced on Sunday. Organizers confirmed Wednesday that the tournament would remain on its original start date of Feb. 3, but China’s team is under quarantine in Australia.

Olympic basketball qualifiers: The women’s basketball tournament set for Feb. 6-9 in Foshan has been moved to Belgrade. China, Britain, South Korea and Spain are competing.

Diving World Series: A meet scheduled for March 6-8 in Beijing has been canceled.

Tour of Hainan: The cycling tour around the Chinese island, scheduled to run Feb. 23-March 1, has been canceled.

Fed Cup: An Asia/Oceania event in the global women’s tennis tournament has been moved from Dongguan to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. It will take place on its original dates, Feb. 4-8.

Supercup: The Chinese soccer club season opener between Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua, scheduled for Feb. 5 in Suzhou, has been postponed.

The schedule changes are reminiscent of the SARS outbreak of 2003, when the Women’s World Cup was abruptly moved to the United States, the world track cycling championships were moved to Germany, and the women’s ice hockey world championships were canceled.

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