Delaying Rio Games would give 'false security' on Zika: WHO panel head

Mon May 30, 2016 5:02pm EDT
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Postponing 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 travelers are constantly going in and out of Brazil, the head of the World Health Organization's emergency committee said.

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

Extensive travel in a globalized world is the issue, not the Games that start on August 5, said David Heymann, chair of the Health Protection Agency in Britain 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," Heymann told Reuters in a telephone interview from London on Monday.

"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 globalization 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".


A Brazilian Army soldier shows pamphlets during the National Day of Mobilization Zika Zero in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 13, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes