Cancelling the Tokyo Olympics is ‘inconceivable’, Japan’s Olympic minister has said – as the coronavirus epidemic raised fears the event could be scrapped.

Seiko Hashimoto said it would ultimately be left to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make a ‘final decision on the Games’ which are due to be held in the capital between July 24 and August 9.

‘From the viewpoint of athletes who are the main protagonists in the Tokyo Games, as they are making adjustments and preparations for this once-in-four-years event… it is inconceivable to cancel or postpone,’ Ms Hashimoto told a parliamentary committee.

People wait in line to take pictures with the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

‘We think it is important that the government gives correct information so that the IOC makes an appropriate decision.’  

The rapid spread of the virus, which has infected 581 people and been linked to 12 deaths in Japan, has cast a shadow over preparations for the 2020 summer Games. 

Ms Hashimoto’s comments come after the Wall Street Journal quoted a member of the Tokyo organisers’ executive board as saying a delay of two years would be the most realistic option if the Games cannot be held this summer. 

‘We’ll have to start talking about this seriously from April,’ Haruyuki Takahashi told the Journal, adding the board has not yet discussed the issue. 

Asked about the report, Ms Hashimoto said she was told by organisers that they are preparing for the Games to go ahead as scheduled from July 24 to August 9.

Japan’s J.League says it has postponed seven Levian Cup matches scheduled for Wednesday due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak and is considering postponing all domestic soccer games through the first half of March. Photo: Kiichiro Sato/AP Photo

Tokyo 2020 organisers said they had ‘sought clarification’ from Takahashi.   

‘He stated he had inadvertently given his personal opinion in response to a hypothetical question,’ a statement said.

‘As IOC President Thomas Bach stated the other day, neither the IOC nor the organising committee are considering postponing or cancelling the Tokyo 2020 Games, and we are proceeding with our preparations for a safe and secure Games opening on 24 July 2020 as planned.’

-Daily Mail