TOKYO -- Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary-general of Japan's ruling party, on Thursday said canceling the Tokyo Olympics could be an option if the coronavirus spreads further, though a senior government official later told Nikkei that "it is impossible to cancel the Olympics."
Nikai, the No. 2 leader of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's Liberal Democratic Party, made the hypothetical remark while recording a TV program at TBS.
When asked if cancellation is among the options, Nikai replied that it is "natural" to have such an option. "I don't know what the Olympics would be for," Nikai added, if the games help the virus to spread.
"We would have to be decisive and give up if we reach the point where it's impossible" to hold the games safely, Nikai said.
He said Japan would "decide based on the [coronavirus] situation at the time." Nikai also insisted he wants to see the Olympics succeed, as the games are an opportunity for Japan.
The 2020 Summer Olympics, already postponed by a year, are scheduled to kick off July 23.
Suga told reporters outside the prime minister's residence Thursday that the government's stance on preparing to hold the games safely "hasn't changed."
"We intend to do everything possible to control the spread of the virus ahead of the games," Suga said.
Also on Thursday, Taro Kono, Japan's minister for administrative reform and point man for coronavirus vaccinations, said in a TV Asahi program that the Tokyo Olympics could be held without spectators.
A decision has already been made not to allow international spectators.
Kono said the Olympics "will be held in a way that they can be held. The games may take place with no spectators."
Commenting on what might happen with the Olympics if the virus continues its spread is treacherous ground for senior Japanese officials. Nikai later in the day issued a statement explaining his comments.
"Our stance has not changed," he said, "and we will continue to support [the Olympic organizers] in their efforts to hold safe and secure games."
He also rephrased his answer to the cancellation question: "What I meant was that if I am asked whether we are going to hold the Olympics no matter what, we are not."
The Olympic organizing committee also made a statement after Nikai's comments.
"Prime Minister Suga has repeatedly expressed the government's commitment to holding the Tokyo 2020 Games," Tokyo 2020 said.
"All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the IOC and the IPC are fully focused on hosting the Games this summer. Tokyo 2020 is hoping for the earliest possible recovery for all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to work toward the delivery of a safe and secure Games this summer," the statement added.