Olympic athletes wait for virus advice

Paul Mulvey
Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman has urged Australia's Tokyo-bound athletes to remain calm

Australia's Olympic athletes are being urged to remain calm and wait for advice on whether the coronavirus will affect preparations for the Tokyo Games starting in July.

After admitting last week he was "seriously concerned" about the impact the virus could have on the Olympics, chief organiser Toshiro Muto quickly played down his comment the following day, calling for a "cool headed" approach and saying the Games would go ahead.

The coronavirus has killed more than 1000 people in China, while there have been around 50 non-fatal cases in Japan. A cruise ship docked 30km south of Tokyo in Yokohama has been quarantined with 135 passengers infected with the virus by Tuesday.

As the spread of the virus remains difficult to contain, Australia's chef de mission Ian Chesterman says the team's chief medical officer David Hughes is keeping a close watch on developments.

"It's a very serious issue and we're certainly not complacent in trying to gather information," Chesterman said.

"We will rely on the World Health Organisation and the International Olympic Committee to give us ongoing advice.

"It's a matter of waiting at the moment.

"The key message to athletes is everyone should remain calm and wait and see how it plays out.

"It's still early days and we've had no advice yet."

The epidemic has disrupted several pre-Games events with women's soccer qualifiers moved from the virus epicentre Wuhan to Australia and the Asia-Oceania boxing qualification tournament shifted from China to Jordan next month.

Group B of the women's basketball qualifiers was moved from Foshan in southern China to Serbia and the Asian wrestling qualifying event in Xian has been postponed until later in the year.

And travel restrictions could lock Chinese gymnasts out of next week's World Cup in Melbourne which is also an Olympic qualifying event.

While Zika virus fears before the Rio Olympics in 2016 proved unfounded, there are similar concerns over the risk carried by hundreds of thousands of people travelling through the region to Tokyo for the Games.

Vaccines are unlikely to be ready before the Games open on July 24 and Muto has said organisers have established a task force to combat the virus.

"It is important to remain objective and cool-headed," he said last week.

"We don't want to alarm the public. The infection is still limited and there is no problem staging the Olympics based on the current situation."