March 12, 2020 / 2:53 AM / 22 days ago

Tokyo 2020 announces opening event despite mounting coronavirus concerns

Workers decorate an area in front of a building in J-village compound, ahead of the upcoming Olympics torch relay in Nahara town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo 2020 organisers said on Thursday that Japan’s softball game against Australia on July 22 would be the first event on the schedule, the announcement coming as concerns mount about the potential impact on the Games from the coronavirus outbreak.

The game will begin at 9 a.m. local time (0000 GMT) at the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium with two further fixtures, Italy v United States and Mexico v Canada, later in the day.

It will mark the first day of action at the Games, which officially begin with the opening ceremony on July 24.

The schedule announcement comes amid fears that the coronavirus outbreak, labeled a pandemic by the WHO on Wednesday, could have a major impact on the Games.

The outbreak has led to the cancellation or postponement of dozens of major sporting events across the globe, including the NBA season [L1N2B503M].

An organising committee member said late on Wednesday that any decision to delay the Olympics should be made before May but on Thursday Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said there was no change in planning for the Games.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics torch lighting ceremony to be held in ancient Olympia will be held without spectators and children will not be in attendance, as previously planned, when the Olympic flame arrives in Japan on March 20.

As of Wednesday, Japan had 620 cases and 15 deaths, excluding people on a cruise ship that was quarantined near Yokohama last month, according to the health ministry.

Experts say the tally may be deceptively low due to the limited number of tests in Japan compared with many other countries.

Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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