The opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is still five months away, and officials insist the Games will go on as planned, despite the global coronavirus panic. But the deadly and still-mysterious infection caused by the virus, known as COVID-19, has already begun to affect preparations for the Summer Games. Movement of athletes has been limited, qualifying events have been disrupted, and plans to train tens of thousands of volunteers have been postponed.
In public, Japanese officials are doing everything they can to calm fears. “There are no considerations of canceling the Games, nor will the postponements of these activities have an impact on the overall Games preparation,” officials said Friday after training for Olympic volunteers in Tokyo was postponed. Training for the 80,000 volunteers has been pushed back to May in what officials called “part of efforts to prevent the spread of infection.”
Japan has seen the fourth most cases of coronavirus, not counting the hundreds of cases aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Ahead of it are Italy, South Korea, and China, where the disease originated and at least 77,150 have been infected. The numbers in Japan could increase soon though. Last week, as passengers were allowed to leave the cruise ship, critics said the disorganization could lead to a spike in cases throughout the country.
Already, coronavirus fears have led to the cancellation of high-profile public gatherings in Tokyo. Last week, participation in the Tokyo Marathon was restricted to only elite athletes, limiting the field to about 200.
Next month, the Olympic torch is set to begin a four-month relay though Japan. Roughly 10,000 torchbearers are expected to carry the torch through all 47 of Japan’s prefectures. A dress rehearsal for the relay, held earlier this month, provided a glimpse of what the real thing looked like. As participants carried the torch, spectators lined the streets in masks.
Even if the Tokyo Olympics go off as planned, and the summer heat quells the spread of the virus, as many hope, it will have made an impact on the Games. The preparation of some athletes, especially those in China, has already suffered, Reuters reports:
At home, many of China’s Olympic hopefuls are confined to closed training bases, unable to venture abroad due to entry restrictions placed by countries to contain the virus that has killed more than 2,500 people in China.
Overseas, a slew of China’s national teams remain in hastily arranged training camps scattered across the globe, unable to return home for fear of being swept up in virus-related travel restrictions.
China’s gymnastics team was also kept from participating in a recent international competition in Australia due to travel restrictions, and China’s national women’s soccer team spent two weeks under quarantine in Brisbane.
There are also emerging questions about how many people will be willing to travel to watch the Olympics. Coronavirus fears have led to a huge drop in tourism to Asia. Travelers from within China are staying put, and those from outside the region are wary to enter it. Olympic organizers are hoping five months is enough time to turn that trend around.