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Japan virus expert ‘pessimistic’ Olympics can be held in 2021

A Japanese expert who has criticised the country’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak warned yesterday that he is “pessimistic” that the postponed Olympics can be held even in 2021.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think the Olympics is likely to be held next year,” said Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University.

Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed last month to delay this year’s Tokyo Games until July next year, after pressure from athletes and sports federations.

But, in recent days, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread worldwide, there have been
doubts over whether a year’s delay will be enough.

Iwata told journalists at a press briefing: “Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer.

"I wish we could, but I don’t think that would happen everywhere on Earth so, in this regard, I’m very pessimistic about holding the Olympics Games next summer.”

Iwata added that he could see the Games being held next year only if they were significantly altered, “such as no audience, or very limited participation”.

Iwata hit the headlines earlier this year for his public criticism of Japan’s handling of the coronavirus-wracked Diamond Princess cruise ship that docked off the country’s coast.

Japanese officials opted to carry out an on-ship quarantine, but more than 700 people on board ended up contracting the virus, and 13 died.

The decision to postpone the Olympics is unprecedented in peacetime, and followed a wave of complaints from athletes facing travel bans and lockdowns.

The postponement is a huge undertaking, but organisers have insisted they are working towards the new opening date, despite ongoing uncertainty about when the pandemic will be over.

Last week, Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya told reporters at an online briefing there is “no Plan B” for the Games being postponed again. – AFP

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