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Tokyo Olympics organisers blast virus rumours, say Games will go ahead

The coronavirus outbreak in China has sparked fear worldwide © AFP/File / Behrouz MEHRI

Tokyo, Japan, Feb 6 – Tokyo 2020 Olympics organisers said Thursday the Games would “go ahead as planned”, slamming misinformation over the new coronavirus for triggering panic.

Chief executive officer Toshiro Muto revealed that organisers have set up a task force to combat the fast-spreading disease that has killed over 560 people and infected at least 28,000 — the vast majority in mainland China — but promised that the Games would be not derailed from their July 24 start date.

“The Olympics will go ahead as planned,” he told reporters after a project review of the Paralympics, which are scheduled to take place after the Olympics.

“It is important to remain objective and cool-headed. We don’t want to alarm the public. The infection is still limited and there is no problem staging the Olympics based on the current situation.”

International Paralympic Committee (IPC) spokesman Craig Spence complained that scare-mongering had created an “info-demic” that could skew public perception in the run-up to the Olympics and Paralympics.

“Fear is spreading quicker than the virus,” he said. “It’s important we quell that fear. Only 191 of the total cases are outside mainland China, so let’s put things into perspective.

“If you compare those rates with the common flu, they are still relatively small numbers,” added Spence.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has not declared this a pandemic. We dealt with the Zika virus in Rio and in these matters we need to rely on the experts.

“We will follow the advice of the World Health Organization. Every organising committee looks into countermeasures, and we have measures in place from previous Olympics and Paralympics here in Tokyo. It is standard practice, it’s business as usual.”

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More than 20 countries have confirmed cases of the flu-like coronavirus.

Japan has had no reported deaths so far, but 45 cases have been detected, including at least 20 people on a cruise ship carrying more than 3,700 passengers and crew quarantined off Yokohama.

– Global health emergency –

The WHO has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

Japan has warned citizens against non-essential travel to China and fast-tracked new rules including limits on entering the country as it tries to contain the spread of the virus.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday pledged that preparations for the Olympics would proceed as normal.

“The coronavirus is beginning to have an impact on tourism,” he said. “But the government will continue to steadily prepare for the Games in close cooperation with the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the local organising committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.”

The Japanese government has chartered three flights to repatriate 565 Japanese nationals from Wuhan, the central Chinese city hardest hit by the virus.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike promised at the weekend to implement “thorough measures” to protect people from the virus.

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The health scare has led to the cancellation of Olympic qualifying events in China such as boxing and badminton.

The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to run until August 9 with the Paralympics starting on August 25.

Meanwhile, Spence confirmed that progress was being made to keep wheelchair basketball’s place in this summer’s Paralympics after the sport was removed from the 2024 Games programme following a row over its classification code.

International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) has until the end of May to bring itself in alignment with the IPC rules, or face exclusion.

“For now, wheelchair basketball is in,” said Spence. “The IWBF have been cooperative and the signs are encouraging for Tokyo 2020. It’s a fantastic sport and the Paralympics are richer with it (involved), but they have to comply with the rules.”

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