Coronavirus: WHO Rejects Calls for Postponement of Tokyo 2020

Tarik Jasarevi

Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja

The World Health Organization (WHO) has defiantly rejected suggestions that it should advice the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to postpone Tokyo 2020 as a precaution to prevent the spread of the virus.

The spokesman of WHO, Tarik Jasarevic, in an exclusive email exchange with THISDAY, said it was not the role of the body to advice for the call off any event.

This position is coming in spite of the cancellation of several international sporting events by organisers to mitigate the spread of the disease.

WHO had on Thursday declared the virus, otherwise known as Covid-19, a pandemic, acknowledging that the outbreak, which has already afflicted dozens of countries and killed more than 4,600 people and infected more than 100,000 people is capable of spreading to all countries on the globe.

The Summer Olympics, the world’s most prestigious sporting games is seen as a potential catalyst for the spread of the pandemic given that the IOC has projected that 11,000 athletes from 206 countries will participate in the quadrennial events.

Jasarevic told THISDAY that onus on the making of proportional and evidence-based decisions about the cancellation of the 2020 Olympics falls on the national authorities of Japan.

The WHO spokesman said Japan should make such decision after it has carried out an assessment about the risk of holding the event in their country.

He also called on the Japanese local health authorities to be involved in these processes so that in the event a case of coronavirus infection occurs during the gathering, it can be taken care of immediately and effectively.

He insisted that the role of WHO is just to provide a guidance that can inform organisations and risk assessment and support on any potential impact on health.

“It is not the role of WHO to call off or not call off any type of events.

WHO works closely with countries and international organizations that plan mass gatherings to provide rational and science-based public health guidance and recommendations, when preparing for mass gatherings as well as recommendations on measures during and after gatherings so that risks can be managed and mitigated,” Jasarevic declared.
He noted that the Olympics and any other mass gathering can never be zero-risk, adding the IOC and the LOC must put in place a risk management strategy accordingly, so that risks can be managed based on the setting, the participants, the location and duration.

“WHO has a long-term collaboration with relevant international organisations, such as the International Olympic Committee. We have teams working on the organisation of Olympics in the last two decades and we have been in contact with the medical team of the Rio Carnival. WHO works every single year with organisers of religious events, such as the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. WHO is closely working with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in guiding the travel and tourism sectors’ response to COVID-19,” he said.