As recently as two days ago, the Tokyo 2020 communications team was sending media members detailed information on the route of the upcoming Olympic torch relay. However, with staggering causalities mounting daily in Europe from Covid-19, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was forced to acknowledge on Monday that the Games may indeed need to be postponed. “If it is difficult to hold the Games in such a way, we have to decide to postpone them, giving top priority to (the health of the) athletes,” he told a parliamentary session. Abe was also quick to add that the decision did not rest entirely with Japanese officials. “Although the IOC (International Olympic Committee) will make a final decision, we are of the same view that cancellation is not an option,” he said. As Abe was speaking to parliament, Canada joined the growing international chorus of dissent when it became the first Olympic committee to say it will not send athletes to compete in Tokyo if the Games – set to begin on July 24 – go ahead as scheduled. It called on the IOC to postpone the Games for a year because of ongoing safety issues. “This is not solely about athlete health, it is about public health,” the committee said in a statement. Reports have also emerged that insiders within the Tokyo organising committee have now been tasked with drafting plans to postpone the Games. According to a Reuters report quoting two unnamed sources close to the organising committee, the news was a relief to many. “Finally, we’ve been asked to make a simulation in case of a postponement,” according to the anonymous official. “We’re making alternative plans – B, C, D – and looking at different postponement time frames.” The welcome development flies in the face of the very public obstinacy from the Japanese government and the Tokyo organising committee as well as the IOC that the Games will still take place in late July. According to another unnamed source, who is involved with the Games planning, the initial refusal to consider postponing the Games could take a terrible toll on the nation. “It’s like a game of chicken,” the source said. “The government can cancel and even postpone the Games right now if they want, but they are waiting for the IOC to officially do it so they can save face. Until now, except for schools, sports and large entertainment facilities like Disneyland, it is still business as usual here. Bars and restaurants are not only open, but they are packed and trains and buses are still full. While local governments have tried to discourage large gatherings, they have done nothing when huge crowd show up to see the Olympic flame.” Abe admits Tokyo 2020 could be postponed as countries pull out of Olympics According to the source, an official announcement on the Olympics postponement could also usher much more vigilant social distancing and heightened Covid-19 testing protocol. Japan has recorded only 1,102 cases and 45 deaths. “It seems like the government has cared first and foremost about the Olympics and because of that people took the cues from them and have been lax about the virus,” said the source. “Hopefully, the postponement of the Games will change things drastically.” The Olympic torch relay is still set to begin its long journey through Japan this week, beginning in Fukushima prefecture in a symbolic gesture to the area that was devastated by the deadly 2011 tsunami. And while a number of torch relay events have been scaled back, plans are still in place for 10,000 runners to carry the torch through 859 municipalities across all of Japan’s 47 prefectures over the next 121 days before arriving in Tokyo for the opening ceremonies. According to a number of health experts in Japan, the country has hardly contained the Covid-19 disease and the testing numbers have significantly lagged behind neighbouring countries like South Korea and China. However, the deputy director of the Ministry of Health’s infectious diseases control division said as recently as March 11 that there was no need for large-scale testing in Japan. “In the first place we believe there is not so much need for testing in Japan,” said Takuma Kato. “Japan is not experiencing an explosion of infection numbers with severe symptoms like Italy and South Korea.” But critics have countered that without sufficient widespread testing, how do we know how many cases are in Japan, particularly since it is now emerging that many people globally without symptoms are testing positive. None of Japan’s indifference has been lost on the international community, particularity with the Olympics on the horizon. Obviously, the financial stakes are high, with a prominent Japanese engineering research firm releasing figures last week that delaying the Olympics by one year would cost Japan up to US$5.8 billion, while cancelling the Games entirely would cost the country close to US$40 billion in expenses and potential revenue. Hong Kong will ‘stand by IOC decision’ on Tokyo 2020 Small wonder that both Japanese officials and the IOC are dithering, with IOC chief Thomas Bach admitting that it is likely to take four weeks before a decision will be made. However, the international community has already begun to make its call. Hopefully, Japanese authorities will soon follow suit and ensure their country is not caught up in a potentially deadly gambit. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.