Olympics facing postponement as virus hits markets worldwide

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As infections soar in Europe and the United States and the world economy spirals downwards, Japan has hinted at the next possible victim of the globe-spanning coronavirus: the Tokyo Olympics.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged that a postponement of the world’s greatest sporting event could be unavoidable.

Canada and Australia then added to the immense pressure that has been steadily mounting on organisers by suggesting that they would not send athletes to Tokyo this summer.

The Games are set to begin on July 24 in Tokyo.

“If it is difficult to hold in a complete way, a decision of postponement would be unavoidable,” Mr Abe said.

The massive headache of changing the logistics of an event that has taken years to prepare for – not to mention the huge cost involved and the blow to national pride – would simply be the latest example of something once unthinkable becoming reality as the spread of the virus dismantles the normal structure and activities of human life.

The accumulation of cancelled events, lost or altered work and a general, widespread shrinking in spending and interaction has led to global economies suffering.

In the US, politicians were negotiating an enormous rescue package that could be worth nearly two trillion dollars (£1.71 trillion).

A surge in infections has caused a critical shortage of medical supplies in many places. Spain erected a field hospital in a convention centre, while US president Donald Trump ordered mobile hospital centres be sent to Washington, California and New York.

A number of politicians and celebrities also announced they have tested positive or were taking quarantine precautions.

Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky became the first US senator to announce he was infected.

Opera superstar Placido Domingo also announced he has Covid-19, while German chancellor Angela Merkel put herself into quarantine after a doctor who gave her a vaccine tested positive.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The outbreak in Indonesia
An immigration officer checks the body temperature to a foreign tourist who wishes to extend her visa as she is unable to fly home due to new coronavirus outbreak, in Bali (AP)

Italy’s infections continued to spike on Sunday, hitting 59,000 cases and 5,476 deaths, and India’s prime minister asked his nation of 1.3 billion people to stay at home.

In Australia, a ban began on bars, gyms, cinemas, nightclubs, restaurants and a host of other places where large groups of people gather.

Japan has apparently dodged, so far, the unchecked spread of the virus which some had earlier foreseen. But for many there, the fate of the 2020 Olympics has been a daily worry.

The International Olympic Committee announced a plan to examine the situation over the next few weeks and make a decision that could include the option to postpone.

Australia issued a statement saying it was advising its athletes to prepare for an Olympics in 2021. The Australian committee’s executive board agreed unanimously that “an Australian Team could not be assembled in the changing circumstances at home and abroad”.

The outbreak in Germany
Barrier tape bars the visitors’ entrance of the Katharinenhospital in Stuttgart (AP)

Mr Abe ruled out the possibility of a cancellation and said he hoped the IOC will make a decision early if the games are postponed, because the process would involve a lot of work and officials would need to start making changes as soon as possible.

The Olympic torch arrived in northern Japan last Friday ahead of the March 26 start of the torch relay, though officials are looking to keep crowds low.

As of Sunday, Japan had 1,719 confirmed cases of the virus, including 712 from a cruise ship, with 43 deaths.

Japan has so far managed to slow the acceleration of the outbreak, but experts say they have found a growing number of clusters in urban areas with untraceable origins.

While other countries struggled to contain the virus, the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus outbreak emerged last year, said it is now allowing for limited movement, both within the city and out of it, as its months-long lockdown gradually eases.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaks alongside Mike Pence during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House (AP)

Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, has 67,800 cases, the bulk of China’s 81,093 total. The first infections were reported there, and Wuhan was also the first city to be locked down.

There was less promising news in business circles.

Singapore Airlines said it will cut 96% of its capacity until the end of April as international travel continues to be hit by tightening of border controls to battle Covid-19.

South Korea’s low-cost airline Eastar Jet said it is temporarily shutting down its all domestic flights, days after it halted its last remaining international flights.

In New York, everything from play dates to picnics in the park and games of basketball were shut down as officials set up dramatic restrictions to slow the virus. There are worries the state could become one of the world’s biggest coronavirus hotspots.

The outbreak in Thailand
Passengers practice social distancing in the waiting room in hopes of preventing the coronavirus at the Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok (AP)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all non-essential businesses in the state to close and non-essential workers to stay at home starting on Sunday night, tightening previous restrictions.

New York City hospitals are just 10 days from running out of “really basic supplies”, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, promised on CBS’ Face The Nation that medical supplies are about to start pouring in and will be “clearly directed to those hot spots that need it most”.

But efforts for a quick aid package from US congress faltered. The senate voted against advancing a nearly two trillion-dollar economic rescue package. Democrats had argued it was tilted toward corporations rather than workers and health care providers.

The delay shook investors, as futures for US stocks fell sharply at the start of trading on Sunday. Futures for the S&P 500 fell by 5%, triggering a halt in trading shortly after opening. Wall Street is coming off its worst week since 2008, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 17%.

Worldwide, more than 335,000 people have been infected and more than 14,600 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

There were more than 33,000 cases across the US and more than 400 deaths.

Worldwide, some 97,800 people have recovered, mostly in China.

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