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Fears of coronavirus pandemic spreading Olympic unease

Fears that the coronavirus outbreak is on the verge of becoming a global pandemic have stoked concerns about whether the Tokyo Games will go ahead as planned.

Five months before the opening ceremony on July 24 in Tokyo, health authorities around the world are scrambling to contain outbreaks of the flu-like virus which has infected about 81,000 and killed more than 2,700 people - the vast majority in China.

Japan has recorded some 170 cases, while 691 people were infected onboard a cruise ship docked south of Tokyo.

While comments by International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound on Tuesday, that any cancellation decision would be made in May, fuelled concerns about the Games, Japan's minister in charge of the Olympics sought to quell fears they could be cancelled.

"The IOC is preparing for the Tokyo Games as scheduled," Minister Seiko Hashimoto said.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga added that he had been told by the IOC that Pound's comment was not its official stance.

The quadrennial sporting showpiece was last called off due to World War II and concerns about athlete safety were also high on the agenda four years ago in the run-up to the Rio Olympics due to fears over an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Some athletes, including golfer Rory McIlroy and tennis player Simona Halep, pulled out of the Games over Zika, but the event went ahead as scheduled.

British former track athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, who won the heptathlon silver at Rio after seriously considering withdrawing, said Tokyo-bound athletes would be similarly torn.

"It's a really difficult position because you are thinking about your health, but also you train so hard for that one moment and you don't want to lose that opportunity," Ennis-Hill said.

"But you have to trust (that) the World Health Organisation and the governing bodies would not put you in unnecessary risk." - REUTERS