Postponing the 2020 Olympics “may become inevitable” if the new coronavirus outbreak makes it impossible to hold the Games safely, Japan’s prime minister said Monday.

Shinzo Abe told parliament that Japan was still committed to a “complete” Games, but added: “if that becomes difficult, in light of considering athletes first, it may become inevitable that we make a decision to postpone.”

The comments were his first acknowledging the possibility that the Games may not open as scheduled on July 24 as the coronavirus continues to spread across the world.

Overnight, the International Olympic Committee also shifted its tone on the Games, saying it would step up planning for different scenarios, including postponement.

“Cancellation is not an option,” Abe said, echoing comments from IOC chief Thomas Bach, who ruled out scrapping the Games, saying it “would not solve any problem and would help nobody”.

The IOC is responsible for making any final decision on the Games, and has come under increasing pressure from athletes and sports associations worldwide as the coronavirus crisis grows.

The death toll from the virus – which has upended lives and closed businesses and schools across the planet – surged to more than 14,300 Sunday, according to an AFP tally.