Will the 2020 Olympics Be Cancelled? Coronavirus Fears Mean Tokyo Games Couldn't Be Held Now, Says Scientist

The coronavirus outbreak has had such a great impact that if the Tokyo Olympics were scheduled for this month, they would not be allowed to go ahead.

That's according to Dr. Hitoshi Oshitani, a prominent Japanese virologist, who suggested finding an effective strategy to guarantee the safety of athletes, staff, spectators and media was the priority for the organizers.

"I'm not sure [of] the situation in Japan at the end of July," he said at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on Wednesday, as per The Associated Press.

"We need to find the best way to have a safe Olympics. Right now we don't have an effective strategy, and I think it may be difficult to have the Olympics [now]. But by the end of July we may be in a different situation."

The 2020 Olympics are scheduled to be held in Tokyo between July 24 and August 9, but a number of qualifying events have been either canceled or postponed due to the virus outbreak.

The women's Olympic soccer qualifying matches for Australia, Taiwan, Thailand and China were among the events canceled, as were the World Indoor Athletics Championships and the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix, which were scheduled over the next two months.

Over 2,000 people have been killed by the virus since the outbreak began in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year.

As this chart provided by Statista shows, the virus has since spread to more than 20 other countries, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and the U.K.

So far, only one death in Japan has been attributed to the virus.

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An infographic showing where cases of coronavirus have been confirmed across the world. Getty

The International Olympic Committee, however, remains optimistic the 32nd edition of the Games will go ahead as planned.

"The preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 continue as planned," the IOC said in a statement to Newsweek.

"Countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of Tokyo 2020's plans to host a safe and secure Games.

"Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with all relevant organizations which carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organizations."

A former adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO), Oshitani explained the biggest threat to the Olympics was another major outbreak similar to the one unfolding in Wuhan taking place somewhere else in the world.

"What we have to do now is try to prevent such a thing from happening," he added.

The IOC, meanwhile, indicated it was confident that over the next four months the authorities would leave no stone unturned to ensure the Games go ahead.

"The IOC is in contact with the World Health Organization, as well as its own medical experts," it said.

"We have full confidence that the relevant authorities, in particular in Japan and China, will take all the necessary measures to address the situation."

Japan is due to host 19 test events for the Olympics next month, which were meant to be a final rehearsal before the Games this summer.

At the time of writing it remains to be seen whether the test runs will be held as planned.

With the exception of the two world wars, the Olympics have never been canceled since they began in their modern guise in 1896.

Even at the peak of Cold War tensions, the event proceeded as planned, even if the U.S. and another 65 countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow games, with the Soviet Union returning the favor four years later in Los Angeles.

Similarly, the Winter Olympics were only canceled during the two world wars—the 1976 games were originally scheduled to be held in Denver, Colorado, but were moved to Innsbruck, Austria, after Colorado voters didn't approve of financing measures.

Four years ago, several athletes—including U.S. cyclist Tejay van Garderen, golfers Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy and tennis stars Milos Raonic, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova—did not attend the Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, due to concerns related to the Zika virus epidemic in the country.

The Games, however, went ahead as planned, unlike the 2003 Women's World Cup, which FIFA moved from China to the U.S. due to the SARS outbreak in Southern China that killed 400 people.

Earlier this week, former WHO regional director Shigeru Omi suggested predicting whether the virus would be under control by the summer was nigh-on impossible.

"Whether the outbreak will last until the Olympic date or not depends upon the virus and the societal effort and joint international community," he said at a news conference.

"Nobody can predict whether we can contain the virus or put an end to this outbreak before the Olympics start. That's anybody's guess."

 Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
The logo for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is seen in Tokyo on February 15. Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty