TOKYO -- Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday said a postponement of the Tokyo Olympics would be unavoidable if the Games cannot be held in a complete way because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He was commenting on the International Olympic Committee's plan to examine the situation over the next few weeks and make a decision, which could include the option to postpone.
"If it is difficult to hold [the Games] in a complete way, a decision of postponement would be unavoidable as we think the athletes' safety is paramount,'' Abe said.
Abe 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 should start as soon as possible.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike echoed Abe.
"The IOC will fully examine what to do over the next four weeks, and in that process that word [postponement] may be included," she said.
The IOC holds most of the cards in any rescheduling, spelled out in a host city contract signed in 2013 between the IOC, the Japanese Olympic Committee and the city of Tokyo.
Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics, but a national audit put the figure at more than twice that much. The bill is sure to increase with any postponement, and the vast majority of the spending if from the public treasury.
Abe, speaking at a parliamentary session, ruled out the possibility of a cancellation.
Whether Japan can hold the Tokyo Games as planned from July 24 to Aug. 9 has been a major international concern as the COVID-19 outbreak has spread globally.
The Olympic torch arrived last Friday in northern Japan ahead of the March 26 start of the torch relay, though crowd control for the relay is key and events would be largely downscaled.
As of Sunday, Japan had 1,719 confirmed cases of the virus, including 712 from a cruise ship, with 43 deaths.
While Japan has so far managed to slow the acceleration of the outbreak, experts said they have found a growing number of clusters in urban areas with untraceable infections.