A group of 150 scientists, researchers, and academics have written an appeal for organizers to either move the Olympic Games from Rio de Janeiro or delay them, citing the ongoing Zika virus public health emergency.
The letter reads in part:
We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or “too big to fail”. History teaches this is wrong: the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympic Games were not just postponed or moved, but cancelled. Other sporting events were moved because of disease, as Major League Baseball did for Zika, and the Africa Cup of Nations did for Ebola. FIFA moved the 2003 Women’s World Cup from China to the USA because of the SARS epidemic, based on the advice from university-based experts, as many of us are.
The letter proceeds to express concern that tourists from around the world will carry the virus back home with them to countries not yet exposed to the epidemic. Poor countries in particular concern the letter’s signatories, who argue that the Olympics pose an unnecessary risk that may lead to outbreaks in regions ill-equipped to cope with the mysterious virus.
Amir Attaran – a professor at the University of Ottawa and prominent signatory of the letter – informed The Guardian of his pessimistic post-olympics forecast, remarking that the “odds are extremely high that somebody will take the disease elsewhere and seed a new outbreak.”
In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement downplaying the Olympics’ role in spreading the Zika virus update, stating that “canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus,” adding that Brazil is simply one of nearly 60 countries which have reported cases.
The WHO reaffirms that tourists should simply follow the world health body’s travel advice, which essentially amounts to wearing mosquito repellant and practicing safe-sex.
Purportedly, the International Olympic Committee has not consulted with the WHO regarding the organization’s dismissal of scientists’ fears, though the governing body of the Olympics has long maintained that there is no possibility of moving the games, the multi-billion dollar budget for which grows every week.
There is likely intense resistance to calls for a delay or cancellation from interests that have contributed to the immense sum of money invested in the games.
Zika virus has been proven to cause microcephaly in new-born infants, which causes malformed heads and debilitating and/or lethal brain damage. Additionally, there may be some links between the virus and deleterious side-effects in adults, including a possible correlation between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis and death.
The United States Olympic Committee has told athletes and staff that they should skip the Rio games if they are concerned about Zika, Reuters reports.
The Tap will bring you further coverage as the Olympics approach concerning Zika virus and other ongoing events, including the political strife and economic turmoil currently ravishing the host country Brazil.