WHO hopes Tokyo Olympics can go ahead despite extension of state of emergency

FILE PHOTO: Apr 6, 2021; Tokyo, JAPAN; People walk past the Olympic rings sculpture near the Japan National Stadium in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games set to begin in July 2021. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

GENEVA (Reuters) -The World Health Organization hopes the Olympics can go ahead in Japan this summer, its emergencies chief said on Friday, saying many of the decisions on the format of the games can only be made last-minute due to evolving risks from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan on Friday extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May to stem a surge in coronavirus cases, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated that it was still possible to host the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Extending the state of emergency to May 31, from May 11, will leave a margin of less than two months before the July 23 start of the Games, which were postponed last year.

"It is our hope that the Olympics can occur," WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan told a briefing, noting a levelling off of the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in the country.

So far, he said authorities had applied a "very systematic, risk-managed approach" to preparations and described Tokyo as "highly competent" to make decisions on how to stage the Games, while avoiding social mixing that would spread the virus.

"We have confidence that the International Olympic Committee and the host city Tokyo and the government of Japan will make the right decision on how best to manage the risks and they are working extremely hard right now to ensure that those risks are well-managed," he said.

Some decisions, such as on the number of spectators, could only be made just before the opening on the basis of the evolving COVID-19 case numbers, Ryan added. Japan has already said international spectators will be barred and that it could hold the event without any spectators.

WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said the same sort of risk-based approach to the Games needed to be applied for events of all sizes. "This is for the Olympics as well as for having a barbecue in your home," she said.

(Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alex Richardson)

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