Olympics: Japan at crossroads on virus outbreak

February 27, 2020

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan is at a “crossroads” in its bid to prevent a major coronavirus outbreak and may need to reconsider the Olympics if domestic transmissions are not brought under control, an expert advising the government has warned.

Norio Ohmagari, an infectious disease specialist, told AFP in an interview he believes measures being taken by the government can still prevent the virus from spreading more widely, but that the next three weeks will be critical.

“We are now on the crossroads for the containment of the COVID-19... within our country,” said

Ohmagari, director of the department of infectious diseases at Japan’s National Center for Global Health and Medicine.

Japan has confirmed at least 186 domestic infections, including three deaths since the outbreak began, and the government has come under pressure for a relatively hands-off approach.

But Ohmagari, who helps advise the government, defended measures, including requesting — but not ordering — the cancellation of major events, and encouraging teleworking and off-peak commuting.

“If we keep going with what we are doing right now we do have (the) significant possibility for the containment or the elimination of this COVID-19,” he said.

He conceded however there is still significant uncertainty, which has cast a shadow as Tokyo gears up to host the Olympics from July.

Ohmagari said he would want to see domestic transmissions of the virus brought under control before the Games.

“We have to see the situation at least three weeks from now,” he said.

“If we can contain the secondary transmission within the country... I think that’s a very good sign, and it’s a very good signal for us to decide ‘go’ for the Olympics and Paralympics.”