Japan scientist says Tokyo Olympics unlikely to be held in 2021

Professor of infectious disease believes tight restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend the Games might be the only way forward

A general view shows the Olympic Rings at Odaiba waterfront in Tokyo on April 20, 2020. A Japanese expert who has criticised the country's response to the coronavirus warned on April 20 that he is "pessimistic" that the postponed Olympics can be held even in 2021. / AFP / Philip FONG
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A Japanese professor of infectious disease is “very pessimistic” the postponed Tokyo Olympics will take place in 2021.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think the Olympics is likely to be held next year,” Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious disease at Kobe University, was quoted as saying on Monday by the Associated Press.

“Holding the Olympics needs two conditions; one, controlling Covid-19 in Japan, and controlling Covid-19 everywhere.”

Toshiro Muto, the chief executive of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee, expressed similar reservations earlier this month. Since then, the organising committee and the International Olympic Committee have said there is no Plan B other than working towards the Olympics to open on July 23, 2021.

“I am very pessimistic about holding the Olympic Games next summer unless you hold the Olympic Games in a totally different structure such as no audience, or a very limited participation,” Iwata said, speaking at a forum arranged by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

“You have to invite so many athletes from many, many places, which is not very compatible with this Covid-19 infection. Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer. And I wish we could. But I don’t think that will happen everywhere on Earth.”

Japan was spared during the initial stage of the coronavirus outbreak. But cases are now spiking, particularly in Tokyo and other large cities, As of Monday, there were about 12,000 detected infections in Japan and 250 deaths.

Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion (Dh46.2bn) to host the Olympics, although a government audit put the figure at twice that. Local estimates indicate the postponement will cost $2bn to $6bn, with the Japanese government picking up almost all the bills.