Healthcare

Olympics officials say games will go on, despite Zika concerns

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Leaders of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) say they have no plans to postpone this summer’s Rio de Janeiro games because of the Zika virus outbreak, despite mounting pressure from some public health experts.  

Dr. Richard Budgett, chief medical officer for the Olympics, said the committee is not altering the games — ignoring a sharply critical piece in the Harvard Public Health Review on Wednesday — because it has been assured of the low risks by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The clear statements from WHO that there should be no restrictions on travel and trade means there is no justification for cancelling, delaying, postponing or moving the Rio Games,” Budgett told the BBC on Wednesday.

{mosads}Leaders of the WHO again declined to weigh in this week on whether people should stay home from the Olympics, except for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.  

Instead, the group took steps to assuage public health fears about the Zika virus ahead of this year’s games in Brazil, which is positioned at the heart of the epidemic.

In a statement Thursday, the WHO said it is consulting with the IOC and Brazilian leaders and reiterated its warnings for pregnant women not to travel to the area.

The WHO said only that it is working on ways to “further mitigate the risk of athletes and visitors,” specifically by controlling mosquito populations. Officials also stressed that the games will take place during Brazil’s winter, “when there are fewer active mosquitoes and the risk of being bitten is lower.”

The WHO’s statement comes one day after the widely shared piece published in the Harvard Public Health Review, which argued the Olympics “must be postponed, moved, or both, as a precautionary concession.”

“If the IOC and the WHO do not have the generosity of heart to delay the games to prevent children being born and disabled their whole lives, then they’re among the cruellest institutions in the world,” the author, Amir Attaran, told The Associated Press.

Concerns are growing among U.S. lawmakers of both parties about how the Olympics could spread the disease.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday that he was concerned about the people who would be travelling to and from Florida on their way to the games.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) also underscored the risks during a special Democratic-led hearing on Thursday and called for more Zika funding.

“The Olympics are only 100 days away,” DeLauro said.

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