Doctors: Postpone or move Olympics due to Zika
By Wayne Drash, CNN
May 27, 2016
(CNN) — The summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro should be postponed or moved "in the name of public health" due to the widening Zika outbreak in Brazil, more than 100 prominent doctors and professors said Friday in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
"We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or 'too big to fail,' " the writers said in the letter addressed to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. "Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before."
The letter shows a growing gap within the medical field on what to do about the Games. On Thursday, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, "There is no public health reason to cancel or delay the Olympics."
The CDC's current recommendation is that pregnant women should not travel to areas where the virus is spreading and that men with the virus who have pregnant partners should use condoms when having sex for the duration of the pregnancy.
"We're working closely with the USOC and Brazilian health authorities, and will update our guidance if needed," Frieden said in a statement in response to the new letter.
The WHO released a statement saying that based on its current assessment, "canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus."
The organization noted that Brazil is one of almost 60 countries that have reported continuing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes.
"People continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons. The best way to reduce risk of disease is to follow public health travel advice," the WHO said.
The International Olympic Committee has said it has no plans to cancel or postpone the Games.
There have been calls in recent months for a delay or postponement of the Olympics, but what makes Friday's letter different is the scope and number of physicians, professors and bioethicists who signed it -- from Japan to South Africa, Norway to the United States.
The officials said the Zika virus has "more serious medical consequences than previously known" and has worsened in the Rio area despite widespread mosquito treatment programs.
"It is unethical to run the risk," the letter said. "It is therefore imperative that WHO conduct a fresh, evidence-based assessment of Zika and the Games, and its recommendations for travelers."
The Zika virus has been shown to cause microcephaly, a rare birth defect in which babies develop abnormally small heads and other neurological problems.
The Olympics are set to begin in just over two months, running from August 5 to August 21. More than 500,000 people are expected to travel to Brazil from around the world.
Olympic-related travel represents just 0.25% of the total 40 million travelers between the U.S. and countries where the Zika virus is circulating, according to the CDC.
Friday's letter was written by four prominent professors and had the backing of more than 100 well-known doctors and professors.
One of the letter's co-authors, Lee Igel, took issue with Frieden's comments that there is "no public health reason" to delay the Games.
"If you think that a mega-sports event in the midst of a major virus outbreak in a host city dealing with a turbulent economy, sitting on top of a turbulent political situation, sitting on top of a turbulent social condition, doesn't pose a significant public health issue, then, sure, 'On with Games,' " Igel wrote in an e-mail to CNN.
Igel, the co-director of New York University's Sports & Society program, said his biggest fear should the Games move forward is "how are human and financial resources going to be managed effectively given the reality of all things happening on the ground in Rio."
New York University bioethecist Art Caplan, another co-author, told CNN that there needs to be a two-day summit of independent experts to analyze the risks posed by keeping the Games in Brazil on the current time frame.
"Put it online and let the whole world watch," Caplan said. "What I don't like is when experts come out and say, 'There's not much reason to be worried. These Games should go on.'
"What I want to know: What are your arguments? What risks are we talking about? If something goes wrong, who's liable, and who's going to take the blame?"
Brazil has been at the epicenter of the Zika virus, with infectious disease experts descending on the hardest-hit areas to investigate why it's spreading and why it has resulted in babies being born with microcephaly. They are also looking into the link between the virus and neurological disorders in fetuses, newborns, infants and adults. This includes trying to quantify the risk for pregnant women and others.
Igel said he and the others who signed onto the letter will continue "ringing the bell" about public health fears of the Games remaining in Brazil.
The U.S. Olympic Committee has told athletes to skip the Games if they're concerned about Zika
Last week, USA Swimming announced the relocation of its pre-Olympic training camp from Puerto Rico to Atlanta because of concerns over the virus.
Dr. Ford Vox, a CNN contributor and physician who works in brain injury medicine with the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, said he signed the letter because he believes a delay or postponement is necessary.
"In my opinion, non-essential travel to Zika endemic areas should be deferred until the situation improves, and the Olympics are not essential," he said.
No, the Summer Olympics Will Not Be Leaving Rio
"Unless there was suddenly an epidemic of people falling over dead, it's not going to happen."
By Edwin Rios | Thu May. 19, 2016
Last week, as Brazil was grappling with the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff , University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran called  on the International Olympic Committee to postpone this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro—or move them elsewhere—due to the continued threat of the Zika virus. He argued in the Harvard Public Health Review  that exposure to the mosquito-borne virus in the heart of Rio, where he said the number of suspected cases has reached 26,000 , could result in a "full-blown global health disaster" and should prompt Olympic officials to take action as a "precautionary concession."
"Simply put," wrote Attaran, a legal and medical scholar, "Zika infection is more dangerous, and Brazil's outbreak more extensive, than scientists reckoned a short time ago."
For months, would-be Olympians have expressed their concerns about the virus. Some  even have refused to participate in this year's Games. On May 12, the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization reiterated a series of precautions for athletes and tourists planning on attending the Games, like  avoiding impoverished and overcrowded parts of Rio and urging pregnant women to not visit Zika-stricken areas. And on Tuesday, after Attaran's article had prompted a new level of scrutiny, WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan told  reporters the Olympics should go ahead as scheduled: "You don't want to bring a standstill to the world's movement of people."
But at this point, is it even possible to move the multibillion-dollar spectacle? I got in touch with two Olympic insiders—A.D. Frazier, who served as chief operating officer of the Atlanta Olympic Committee, and Olympic historian David Wallechinsky—to see what they thought about a last-minute change. They were…less than optimistic. "Just forget it," Frazier said. "The International Olympic Committee won't cancel unless Rio goes completely bankrupt." Wallechinsky was even more blunt: "I understand that this is no joke, but in terms of moving them at the last minute, unless there was suddenly an epidemic of people falling over dead in Rio, it's not going to happen."
Here are the three main reasons why:
It would be unprecedented. Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, noted that the only times the Olympics have been canceled were during World War I and World War II. They've endured violence before and during the Games: Ten days before the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, for example, police and military officers opened fire  into a crowd of student demonstrators, killing and wounding hundreds ; at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, 11 members of the Israeli team were killed by terrorists; and in 1996, a bombing during the Atlanta Games killed  one and injured more than 100. (Atlanta COO Frazier recalled being briefed about dozens of bomb threats each day during the 17-day event.)
Still, Wallechinsky admitted that Rio 2016's Zika problem is a unique one. The closest parallel that he could think of came two years ago, when Africa's Ebola crisis spurred concerns at the summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Officials from China and the International Olympic Committee announced  that athletes from affected areas would not be allowed to compete in combat sports or swimming out of fear that athletes could transmit the virus. The event took place as scheduled, but three athletes were unable to compete.
There's too much cash riding on Rio 2016. "Sponsors and the TV networks have put so much money into these Olympics being in Rio that it's impossible to imagine moving them at this late date," Wallechinsky said. The organizing committee, Frazier noted, would have locked in place sponsorship deals and contracts for buses, hotels, and other infrastructure long before the event. Moving the Olympics to a new host city would require advanced notice not just for top international sponsors that typically support the Games, but also for local sponsors like the ones in Brazil helping fund Rio 2016, Wallechinsky said. Local and international sponsor deals account for 52 percent of the Rio Organizing Committee's revenue, or $962 million, making it the dominant source of funding. (The bulk of those sponsorship agreements were made in 2014 , right around the time of World Cup, which was also held in Brazil.)
Earlier this year, organizers trimmed expenses  by $500 million to balance its $1.85 billion operating budget, eliminating thousands of seats from venues and taking away televisions from rooms in the Olympic Village. Still, economists project that the overall costs for this year's events could reach  more than $10 billion. "You can't just pick up and move carte blanche," Wallechinsky said.
Possible sites would need a "pickup squad" of organizers, fast. Two years ago, rumors surfaced  that organizers were considering moving the Rio Games to London—host of the 2012 Olympics—out of concern for Brazil's preparation. But finding a replacement site at this late stage with available venues is just one piece of the puzzle, Frazier said. Preparing the surrounding roads and infrastructure for a massive influx of athletes, business personnel, and spectators, as well as coordinating a flawless 17-day spectacle in three months with thousands of contractors and vendors, would pose a virtually impossible challenge for the "pickup squad" of organizers who would have come together at the last moment.
And that's putting aside the travel schedules for the spectators and athletes themselves, as well as the need for safe, comfortable accommodations for athletes at an Olympic village. "The village itself is too complex to start in three months," Frazier said. "If you're talking about 15,000 athletes and officials and their safety, do you think somebody would organize a totally secure Olympic village in three months? No, not a chance." He added that since the Munich Games, the security of the venues and athletes' housing has been a pressing issue for organizers. Moving an event is one thing, but Frazier noted that moving an entire Games—opening ceremony and all—is "folly."
"You can't do it. Two years ago, I would've felt differently," Frazier said. "Today they've got three months to go, man. Only a fool would take on the responsibility of taking the Games away from Rio."
Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/media/2016/05/moving-olympics-rio-brazil-london-zika-dilma
WHO rejects call to postpone, move Olympics
The Associated Press
BERLIN (AP) — The World Health Organization on Saturday rejected a call from 150 health experts to consider postponing or moving the Rio Summer Olympics due to the Zika virus in hard-hit Brazil, arguing that the shift would make no significant difference to the spread of the virus.
The U.N. health agency, which declared the spread of Zika in the Americas a global emergency, said in a statement there is "no public health justification" for postponing or canceling the 2016 games, which run from Aug. 5-21...