With already 200 cases and three diseases reported, Japan is starting to take serious action to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. The government is considering whether to hold the Olympic games or not, and they’ve already closed schools and canceled football matches.
Olympic Games cost billions of dollars to host. The 2016 Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, are estimated to have cost over $13 billion, while four years before in London, the price was estimated at $10.4 billion.
The fact that Tokyo is even considering canceling the games and taking the loss on the chin shows how serious they are about keeping Japan coronavirus-free.
The Olympics are scheduled to start on July 24 in Tokyo, but plans could change depending on the spread of the coronavirus. Dick Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said there is a three-month window to decide what will happen the competition.
Pound said the decision whether to hold the games or not will be made at the end of May, claiming the virus should be under control for the Olympics to happen. “At that time, I would say that people will have to ask: ‘Is this under enough control so we can trust going to Tokyo, or not?” he said in an interview with AP.
If the Olympics are in fact called off, it would be the first time this happens because of a disease. In the past, they were canceled in 1916, 1940 and 1944 because of world wars. The games were supposed to be held in Tokyo in 1940 but were canceled because of Japan’s war with China and World War II.
Pound described the uncertainty as an important problem and said the official position is that the decision will depend on consultations with the World Health Organization. “It’s a big decision and you can’t make it until you have reliable data on which to justify it,” he said.
If changes have to be made, Pound said that each option faces obstacles and that moving is unlikely: “Moving the place is difficult because there are few places in the world that could think about preparing the facilities in that short time to put something.”
In what could be a signal for the future of the Olympics, Japan already suspended until March 15 the games of the J1 League, the country’s first soccer championship. Mitsuru Murai, head of the federation, said he wished to align with the precautionary measures taken in China, the epicenter of the outbreak, and in South Korea.
Students in Japan have also been affected by the spread of the coronavirus. The country’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced today that all schools will remain closed for the next few weeks, affecting 12.8 million students of primary and secondary level.
“The next few weeks are an extremely important period,” Abe explained. “This is to prioritize the health and safety of children and take precautions that allow us to avoid the risk of possible infections in large numbers in many children and teachers who meet and spend hours together every day.”
The announcement came hours after several local governments decided similar measures. On the island of Hokkaido, the local government closed 1600 schools in response to the 15 new confirmed cases. In total, the region has 54 cases of coronaviruses and is Japan’s largest focus.
The Abe government has been criticized by the Japanese who believe that the response to the coronavirus is being too lax. While Japan has 200 cases in its territory, it also has another 705 cases on the U.K.-registered cruise ship Diamond Princess that caused four deaths since it docked in Tokyo in early February.