Japan doubled down on its commitment to host the Tokyo Olympics this year and flatly denied reports on Friday of a possible cancellation, in a move that is unlikely to temper public fears of holding the event during a global pandemic.
Though much of Japan is under a state of emergency due to a third wave of Covid-19 infections, Tokyo organisers have consistently vowed to press ahead with the Games scheduled to open on July 23 after having been postponed in March last year.
A Japanese government spokesman said there was "no truth" to a report in The Times that the government had privately concluded the Tokyo Olympics would have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Times, citing an unnamed senior member of the ruling coalition, said the government's focus was now on securing the Games for Tokyo in the next available year, 2032.
"We will clearly deny the report," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai said in a press conference.
In a rare move, the government issued a statement to shoot down the report, saying it was working closely with the International Olympic Committee and other parties in preparation for a safe and secure Games.
The Tokyo 2020 organising committee also denied the report, saying in a statement its partners including the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee were "fully focused" on hosting the games as scheduled.
"It is very disappointing to see that The Times is developing such a tabloid-like story with an untrustworthy source," a Tokyo 2020 source told Reuters.
"The national government is fully committed to delivering a safe and secure Games, and we are always encouraged by their dedications," the source said.
In early international reactions, the Australian and United States Olympic Committees said they were preparing for the Games as planned.
"Unfortunately, I need to address unfounded rumours that the Tokyo Olympic Games will be cancelled, rumours that only create more anxiety for athletes," Matt Carroll, the chief executive of the Australian committee, told reporters in Sydney.
"The Tokyo Games are on. The flame will be lit on July 23, 2021."
The Australian committee is run by the IOC's pointman for the Tokyo Games, John Coates.
The U.S. and Canadian committees wrote on Twitter they had not received any information suggesting the Games would not happen as planned.
Japan has been hit less severely by the pandemic than many other advanced economies, but a recent surge in cases has forced it to close its borders to non-resident foreigners and declare a state of emergency in the capital Tokyo and other major cities.
Tokyo reported new daily coronavirus cases of more than 1,000 for nine straight days through Thursday and set a single-day record of over 2,400 infections earlier this month. The death toll from the respiratory disease stands at nearly 4,900 people in Japan.
About 80% of people in Japan do not want the Games to be held this summer, recent opinion polls show, over fears the influx of athletes will spread the virus further.
In an interview ahead of Friday's report, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said he was cautiously hopeful that successful rollouts of Covid-19 vaccines could help lead to the safe staging of the world's largest sporting event.
The Olympic Games represents a major milestone for Japan and its premier, Yoshihide Suga, who has said the event would bring "hope and courage" to the world. Suga reiterated on Friday that it would go ahead as planned.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach reaffirmed his commitment to holding the Games this year in an interview with Kyodo News on Thursday.
"We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo," Bach told Kyodo.