Coronavirus may force Olympics to be postponed, Japan's Abe says

"Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody," the International Olympic Committee's president said.
Image: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses Parliament in Tokyo
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses Parliament in Tokyo on Monday.Jiji Press / AFP - Getty Images

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By Linda Givetash and Arata Yamamoto

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged for the first time on Monday that the Summer Olympic Games could be delayed due to the coronavirus as countries began threatening to keep their athletes at home.

"If it’s difficult to proceed in its complete form, then we must think about the athletes first and consider postponing," Abe told Parliament.

Meanwhile, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee told reporters it would not make a final decision for another four weeks.

Organizers need to model how delays of one, three and five months would affect the availability of venues and develop contingency plans, committee president Mori Yoshiro said.

"Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody," the international committee's president, Thomas Bach, said Sunday. He added that canceling the games would "destroy" the dreams of 11,000 athletes from around the world.

The preference was to still hold the games this calendar year, if possible, and cancelling outright is not an option, Yoshiro added, echoing an earlier statement by the International Olympic Committee.

The games are scheduled to begin July 24. The budget for staging the event has been set to $12.6 billion, organizers have said.

Later on Monday, President Donald Trump praised Japan's preparation for the Olympics, saying the U.S. would follow Abe's lead on deciding whether its athletes would attend the event.

Canada and Australia announced Sunday that they would not send athletes if the games were not delayed. "This is not solely about athlete health — this is about public health," the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committee said while urging organizers to postpone the event for one year.

The Olympic torch arrived in northern Japan last Friday. Tokyo 2020 director general Muto Toshiro said the torch relay, slated to begin on March 26, will still go ahead.

Japan's Health Ministry reported 1,801 confirmed cases of the virus on Monday, including 712 from a cruise ship, with 49 deaths.

Worldwide, more than 335,000 people have been infected and more than 14,600 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.