Rio Olympics will not be called off over Zika outbreak

Photo: Francisco Anzola

The 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games will not be called off because of the Zika virus outbreak, officials have insisted.

The comments arrive as the Zika virus spreads through Latin America without cure or reliable diagnostic tests, a fact that has prompted the World Health Organisation to declare a disease linked to the virus as an international “public health emergency”.

The infection has been linked to microcephaly, a disease that causes babies to be born with underdeveloped brains. The International Health Regulation Emergency Committee agreed that a causal link between this cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders and Zika is “strongly suspected”, although not yet scientifically proven. All agreed on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts to investigate and understand this relationship better.

“I am now declaring that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” WHO director general, Margaret Chan, said in a statement.

The WHO alert this week put Zika in the same category of severity as Ebola, which will fast-track research and aid in tackling the infection.

Reuters reports that the Brazilian government suspects Zika came to the country during the 2014 FIFA World Cup by a visitor from Africa or Oceania, where the virus is endemic. 1.5 million Brazilians are estimated to have been infected.

Nonetheless, the mosquito-carried virus will not cause the Rio Olympics to be postponed or cancelled from this August, news that will come as some reassurance to both the country’s tourism and housing industry, as the tournment is anticipated to provide a boost to both.

President Dilma Rousseff government insisted to Reuters that there is “zero risk if you are not a pregnant woman”.

“The Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus,” added the WHO.