Zika not a big worry for Singapore contingent

Neo Jie Shi is happy to adhere to the guidelines from the SNOC. "If they think we are safe, we are safe," says the marathoner.
Neo Jie Shi is happy to adhere to the guidelines from the SNOC. "If they think we are safe, we are safe," says the marathoner. TNP FILE PHOTO

Neo Jie Shi will have to brave the mosquito-ridden environment in Rio de Janeiro for all 42.195km of her event next month.

But she is Singapore's first marathoner at the Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta Games, and she remains unfazed by the Zika threat.

"I'm not that worried," said the 31-year-old, who got married last October. "The Singapore National Olympic Council has given us guidelines - if they think we are safe, we are safe."

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that may result in microcephaly - a birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads. Brazil's Ministry of Health announced that the number of confirmed and suspected Zika-related microcephaly cases numbers in the high 4,000s.

Badminton player Derek Wong wed fellow shuttler Vanessa Neo in May last year. But for the two-time Olympian, withdrawing was always out of the question.

"My wife knows about the health risks, but she also knows what's at stake," said the 27-year-old. "The Olympics happens only once in four years. She wanted to attend the Games as well but unfortunately, she didn't qualify.

"As an athlete, she knows what the Olympics mean, and didn't try to stop me from going."

Earlier this month, the SNOC issued a comprehensive health advisory and health pack to members of the Singapore contingent which included arm and calf sleeves, military-grade mosquito repellent and permethrin solution. The athletes will also have citronella oils to repel mosquitoes in their rooms.

With these precautions in place, Singapore's 25 representatives - the joint-largest number of athletes dispatched to a Summer Games together with Beijing 2008 - are taking things in their stride.

And it is not just the athletes who will be putting themselves at risk - Singapore is sending five officials for the hockey and aquatics events.

"I'm not really bothered by it," said Lillian Chee, a judge in women's hockey. "As long as you take the necessary precautions and take proper care of yourself, you shouldn't be too worried.

"It's just like when you travel to any other country. There'll be certain risks but it's not new or dangerous to us because we're fully aware of the situation."

It may not be 100 per cent safe, but at least something is being done to curb the health threat, said Wong, who said he would heed the advice and remain indoors as much as possible to reduce any exposure to mosquitoes.

Saiyidah Aisyah, Singapore's first Olympic rower, said that the preparations by the SNOC had alleviated her concerns. "The doctor who's following us to Rio gave us a very thorough briefing," said the 28-year-old. "And when I'm out there on the water getting ready for my first race, mosquitoes and Zika will be the furthest thing from my mind - all I'll be thinking about is my race and doing well in it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Zika not a big worry for Singapore contingent'. Print Edition | Subscribe