Update: In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will no longer begin on the original start date of July 24. They will be pushed back to "no later than summer of 2021", according to a joint statement the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee released early on March 24.
"On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided," Dick Pound, an International Olympic Committee member, said to USA Today the day before the official statement was made. "The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know."
An exact date has not been set yet, but the postponed Games will still be held in Tokyo, according to the new statement.
The 2020 Olympics don't kick off until July 24. But officials are already voicing concerns that the coronavirus outbreak may affect the Games, which are scheduled to be held in Tokyo this year.
Coronavirus, which refers to a family of viruses that include everything from the common cold to MERS and SARS, has been huge news since the most recent outbreak began in Wuhan, China this January. This particular sickness has been dubbed COVID-19. It's transferred via droplets from an infected person's breathing, sneezing, or coughing, according to the World Health Organization.
The infection has impacted almost 80,000 people globally, according to a tracker built by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. So far there have been 2,705 deaths, the bulk of which occurred on mainland China. Japan, specifically, has 861 documented cases, most of which are related to the quarantined cruise ship that's currently docked in Yokohama.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has placed Japan on Alert Level Two, which encourages travelers to these areas to practice enhanced caution. (China and South Korea, on the other hand, are on Alert Level Three, which means people should avoid all non-essential travel to these destinations.)
That's where the concern over the Olympics begins. On February 22, Olympic volunteers were supposed to receive training in Tokyo. That session was was postponed to May in “part of efforts to prevent the spread of infection," said Japanese officials, according to New York Magazine.
An estimated 600,000 visitors from other countries will enter Japan for the 2020 Games, The New York Times reports. If the virus isn't under control by then, it seems like it would pose a significant risk.
Just after deciding to push back the training session, Tokyo officials said: “There are no considerations of canceling the Games, nor will the postponements of these activities have an impact on the overall Games preparation."
But according to a more recent interview with the Associated Press on February 25, Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, doesn't rule out the possibility completely. He estimates that there’s a two- or three-month window to decide whether or not to cancel the Tokyo Olympics. “In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?’” he said. The country is said to be spending upwards of $12.6 billion to organize the Games.
Addressing Olympic athletes, Pound went on: “As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo. All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”
If the Games were called off in 2020, it wouldn't be the first time — though past cancellation were always due to war. World War I halted the 1916 Summer Olympics in Berlin; and the 1940 and 1944 Winter and Summer Olympics were canceled due to World War II.