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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Tokyo governor says canceling Olympics 'not an option'

Japanese organizers brace for impact of WHO pandemic announcement on sentiment

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike (Photo by Kai Fujii)

TOKYO -- Japanese officials preparing for the Tokyo Olympic Games were in shock on Thursday after the World Health Organization declared a coronavirus pandemic, but they are rejecting any talk of canceling the event.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said ''cancellation is not an option.'' But at the same time, Koike said it is unrealistic to say that the WHO's decision to call the global outbreak a pandemic would have no impact at all on the course of discussions leading to a final decision.

Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister who is president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said on Wednesday before WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus' announcement that there was no change in the plan to hold the Games. Still, a Tokyo government official, said the "situation has shifted significantly."

Under the agreement the International Olympic Committee signed with the Tokyo government and the Japanese Olympic Committee, the IOC can decide to cancel the Tokyo Games if there are sufficiently reasonable grounds to believe participants would be exposed to a serious safety threat.

A Tokyo organizing committee official said the WHO's view may have a "big impact" on IOC decision-making because the Swiss-based organization lacks expertise in infectious diseases.

Although some believe the Games can be held with no spectators, "athletes from overseas would not be able to come to Japan" if it grows into a global epidemic of serious dimensions, according to a Japanese Cabinet Secretariat official in charge of the Olympics.

"WHO and IOC officials and senior executives of the Tokyo organizing committee will have to continue discussions to assess how the situation develops," said a source close to the Games.

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