According to the Associated Press, Muto declined to directly answer a question about whether there were alternative plans to staging the Games in 2021, instead saying, “Mankind should bring together all of its technology and wisdom to work hard so they can development treatments, medicines and vaccines.”
Last month, in announcing that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the Games would be held in full in 2021 ″as a testament to victory over the infection.”
On Tuesday, Abe declared a state of emergency for about a month in Tokyo and six other prefectures most severely affected by the coronavirus. Despite urging residents of Tokyo and Osaka not to leave their cities in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus to smaller towns where more elderly residents live, Abe said the government “will not lock cities down as has been done overseas” and declined to close restaurants, bars and other gathering places, instead asking that residents avoid them and that restaurants be well ventilated with space between diners. There are no penalties for noncompliance.
In announcing the state of emergency, Abe said the risk of infection in Tokyo was “not really high” compared with other cities overseas. But Tokyo recorded 189 new cases of the coronavirus Friday, pushing its total over 1,700. Japan has had more than 5,500 cases, with the caseload rising by around 500 per day over the past few days, compared with an average daily increase of 40 to 50 three weeks ago. With the world’s oldest population, Japan is considered especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Abe also declined to order residents to work from home, instead asking that companies institute remote working where possible. Japan’s corporate culture prizes face-to-face interaction as a matter of respect, and the country’s failure to update its technological infrastructure means telework is not an option for many.
During a March 25 conference call with reporters, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the Games will be held “at the latest in the summer 2021″ and did not mention staging them any later than that. Bach did say “we will organize a Games only in a safe environment for all the participants.” Around that time, IOC member Dick Pound told The Washington Post that Olympic organizers will continue to monitor the spread of the virus before making further changes to the Olympic schedule.
“Well, we had a prime minister many years ago who used to say, ‘We’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it.’ What you hope is, in 16 months the containment strategies will have become effective,” Pound said. “You’ll be that much closer to a vaccine. Maybe it’ll be not normal-normal, but it’ll be sufficiently normal to go ahead. If those circumstances change, that’s the next elephant in the room. We would again rely on the World Health Organization and the other public health authorities to give their advice or rulings.”
Said Muto on Friday: “We have made the decision to postpone the Games by one year. So this means that all we can do is work hard to prepare for the Games. We sincerely hope that come next year mankind will manage to overcome the coronavirus crisis.”