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Anti-Zika virus measures backed by IOC as outbreak declared global health emergency

Anti-Zika virus measures backed by IOC as outbreak declared global health emergency
February 2, 2016

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has given his backing to measures being taken to combat the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Last Friday, the IOC issued guidance to National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and sports federations concerning the Zika virus and its impact on Brazil and 2016 Games host city Rio de Janeiro.

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) having declared the outbreak and spread of the virus as an international public health emergency, the Brazilian Government has maintained there is no chance of this year’s Games being called off.

Games organisers said last week that Olympic and Paralympic venues will be inspected on a daily basis during this year’s Games in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus which is linked to a rare birth defect and a condition that can cause paralysis.

Speaking during a visit to Los Angeles on Monday (1st February) to meet with the team aiming to be the USA bidder for the 2024 Games, Bach expressed his confidence that the spread of the virus across South America will not adversely affect the 2016 Games, which run from 5th to 21st August this year.

Reuters reported Bach as saying “we welcome this decision by the World Health Organisation because it helps raise even more awareness and to provide even more resources to fight the virus.

“We are in close contact with the WHO and we see also that so far there is no travel ban being pronounced by the WHO. We also see that the Olympic Games will be taking place in the winter time which is not the preferred breeding time for the mosquitoes.”

Brazil is believed to be the country worst affected by the Zika crisis with Health Minister Marcelo Castro stating that the outbreak is proving to be worse than believed because most cases show no symptoms.

The virus has no vaccine or cure at present, but Castro told Reuters that Brazil will start mandatory reporting of cases by local governments next week when most states will have labs equipped to test for Zika.

Castro explained “80% of the people infected by Zika do not develop significant symptoms. A large number of people have the virus with no symptoms, so the situation is more serious that we can imagine. Our big hope is finding a vaccine.”

Brazilian authorities believe Zika was brought to the country during the 2014 FIFA World Cup by a visitor from Africa or Oceania where the virus is endemic. An estimated 1.5 million Brazilians are now believed to have caught Zika, with the virus having since spread to 24 countries and territories in the southern hemisphere.

However, President Dilma Rousseff’s government has maintained there is no chance the Games will be cancelled due to the health scare.

Rousseff's Chief of Staff Jaques Wagner commented “we have to explain to those coming to Brazil, the athletes, that there is zero risk if you are not a pregnant woman.”

Asked by Reuters whether he had any concern that some athletes might choose not to compete in Rio because of the Zika virus, Bach explained “no, I don't see this because of all the measures which have been taken, and because of the time. There remains six months to tackle this problem and the determination of the WHO, by the Brazilian authorities, by the organising committee, I think all this will convince the athletes to come to Rio de Janeiro and to celebrate these Olympic Games all together.”

Image: The Rio Games Olympic Village.

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