Japanese officials take action to curb spread of coronavirus as Olympics approach

While sporting events across Japan were held in empty stadiums Saturday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked for the public's help in combating the coronavirus outbreak as the country prepares to host the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.

Sapporo, the Japanese city located on the northern island of Hokkaido and host of the Olympic marathon, recently declared a state of emergency and residents were urged to stay inside this weekend due to concerns over spreading the virus, according to the Evening Standard. The men's and women's marathons were moved from Tokyo to Sapporo last year amid concerns about the heat.

Tokyo Olympic organizers and IOC president Thomas Bach have repeatedly said the Games will go ahead as planned. 

Abe held the news conference just two days after announcing the decision to close schools in the country until late March in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, according to Reuters. The news conference was his first since the outbreak began.

“To be frank, we cannot win this battle through the efforts of the government alone,” Abe said. “I have decided we must make all efforts in the next one or two weeks to prevent the spread (of the virus)."

Japan has reported more than 940 cases of infection, including 705 from the British-registered Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined near Yokohama this month, according to broadcaster NHK. There have been 11 deaths, including six from the cruise ship.

A woman wearing a face mask walks past the Olympic rings in front of the new National Stadium on Feb. 26, 2020 in Tokyo. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images) (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi, Getty Images)

Acknowledging the issues cancelling school has on working parents who might be forced to take time off and on companies losing business, Abe said the country plans to use another 270 billion yen ($2.50 billion) in budget reserves to help subsidize those affected in the next 10 days.

Abe also said Japan is closely monitoring how the virus is affecting the global economy and will take additional financial actions if necessary.

Japan still plans to host a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to U.S. News, but Abe said he would consider expanding immigration restrictions and that the next two weeks would be a good indication if the country can contain the disease or if infections will continue to rise. 

Sunday the Tokyo Marathon will be limited to a few hundred elite runners as organizers restricted the field size due to virus concerns. The race typically draws a field of 38,000 runners. 

In Tokyo on Saturday night, the Yomiuri Giants, a popular baseball team, were scheduled to play the Yakult Swallows in an empty stadium, according to the Associated Press. The game would typically sell out a stadium that seats 55,000 fans. In other cities across the country, several preseason baseball games were held without spectators.

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