Delaying Rio games would not stop Zika

Postponing Olympics would only provide a 'false' sense of security, says medical expert

GENEVA • Delaying the Rio Olympics due to fears that the event could speed the spread of the Zika virus would give a "false" sense of security because travellers are constantly going in and out of Brazil, the head of the emergency committee of the World Health Organisation (WHO), has said.

More than 100 medical experts and scientists called last Friday for August's Rio Games to be postponed or moved due to fears over the spread of the virus, which is linked to serious birth defects.

However, WHO rejected their call.

Extensive travel in a globalised world is the issue, not the Games that start on Aug 5, said David Heymann, chairman of the Health Protection Agency in Britain and the man who also leads the WHO panel of independent experts on Zika.

"The problem is not the Olympics, the problem is other travel besides the Olympics, if there is a problem," he said.

WEIGHING UP THE PROSPECTS

We have to take decisions and measures to ensure that the Olympic dream does not become a health nightmare.

PAU GASOL, Spain basketball forward, on getting information on the Zika virus.

"People go in and out of Brazil all the time for holiday, for business, for whatever.

"And the Olympics is much less travel, it would be one-time travel. It's actually in the winter months when hopefully transmission (of the virus) is less.

"So, it's just a false security to say that you'll postpone the Olympics and postpone the globalisation of this disease."

Heymann called for careful surveillance by countries of their athletes who return from Brazil, though he added that diagnostic tests for Zika were "very difficult to obtain right now".

National health authorities should advise their athletes and citizens of child-bearing age to protect themselves against mosquito bites with repellents while in Brazil and to practise safe sex on return for at least three weeks, Heymann said.

Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol, however, does not want to take a risk. He is considering skipping the Olympics over virus fears.

"I think it is a sufficiently important issue that it should be considered," the Chicago Bulls player said.

"I hope that national Olympic committees and international health organisations provide real information regarding the situation in Brazil so athletes can take informed decisions."

Gasol, whose mother is a doctor and who started studying medicine at the University of Barcelona, said he has been trying to gather as much information as possible about the virus since the health authorities were providing very little.

In an opinion article published in top-selling Spanish newspaper El Pais earlier on Monday, the 35-year-old, who helped Spain win the silver medal at both the 2008 and 2012 Games, wrote: "We have to take decisions and measures to ensure that the Olympic dream does not become a health nightmare."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'Delaying Rio games would not stop Zika'. Print Edition | Subscribe