“In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?’”
As the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread uncontained in Europe and the Middle East, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee said the fate of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics might not be decided until late May.
“In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?’” he said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are scheduled from 24 July to 9 August and Pound admitted if the Olympics cannot go ahead as scheduled in Tokyo, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation.”
“You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, `We’ll do it in October.’”
The Olympic Games, which date back to 1896, have been cancelled once. The Olympics in 1940 were to be in Tokyo but had to be cancelled as Japan was at war with China and there was World War II. The Rio Games in Brazil took place in 2016 despite the outbreak of the Zika virus.
Pound said the fate of the Tokyo Games is largely out of the IOC’s hands – the state of the coronavirus epidemic, at this moment “a global medical emergency”, will make the decision for them.
“If it gets to be something like the Spanish flu,” Pound said, referring to the deadly pandemic early in the 20th century that killed millions, “at that level of lethality, then everybody’s got to take their medicine”.
The coronavirus has now spread to Spain mainland, Austria, Croatia and Switzerland in Europe and Algeria in Africa. More than 30 countries across the globe have coronavirus victims.
“This is the first case in the WHO African region,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “The window of opportunity the continent has had to prepare for coronavirus disease is closing. All countries must ramp up their preparedness activities.”
The World Health Organisation’s call to be prepared for a pandemic appeared to be working with a dozen schools in England and Ireland sending pupils and teachers who accompanied them on half-term skiing trips in the Italian alps to self-isolate for 14 days after their return. The schools include ones in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Pembrokeshire in Wales, Guernsey in the Channel Islands and others in Berkshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Liverpool, Teeside and Yorkshire. Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough said it would reopen on 3 March, while Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, is shut until 2 March after a number of pupils were showing “flu-like symptoms”.
The UK Department of Health and Social Care said people who have returned since 19 February from Iran, lockdown areas of northern Italy, special care zones in South Korea and Hubei province in China should call NHS 111 and self-isolate even if they have no symptoms. Anyone who develops symptoms after coming back since that date from the defined area in northern Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar should do the same, even if their symptoms are mild.
About 1,000 holidaymakers and workers have been quarantined in a hotel in Tenerife on Spain’s Canary Islands after an Italian doctor and his wife tested positive for coronavirus. Austria also placed an Innsbruck hotel under lockdown when an Italian receptionist was found to have contracted the virus.
The coronavirus is spreading in northern Italy with new cases in Tuscany, Liguria and Sicily, which is far south of the Lombardy region.
The first case of coronavirus has been confirmed on the Spanish mainland, with an Italian woman living in Barcelona testing positive after a recent trip to northern Italy. Spanish health authorities had previously identified two confirmed cases of coronavirus on the remote Canary island of La Gomera and on the Balearic island of Mallorca.
In the US, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alerted Americans to begin preparing for the spread of coronavirus.
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“The data over the past week about the spread in other countries has raised our level of concern and expectation that we are going to have community spread here,” Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said.
What is not known, she said, is when it will arrive and how severe a US outbreak might be.
“Disruption to everyday life might be severe,” she warned.
In the Middle East, there have been 15 deaths from the coronavirus and 95 confirmed cases of the virus in Iran, the most fatalities of any country outside of China.
Iran’s deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, tested positive to coronavirus after downplaying outbreak concerns just days before.
Iran’s historically porous borders means that large movements of refugees and pilgrims move into and from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Some 30,000 people reportedly returned to Afghanistan from Iran in January alone, and millions of Shiite pilgrims and workers move between Iraq and Iran annually.