Brazil’s Ministry of Health Says Olympics Safe From Zika

Photo by Cevik

Brazil’s Ministry of Health has released a statement that says that the country will be safe for athletes, participants and spectators during this summer’s 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games in spite of concerns regarding the Zika virus. A study from the University of Cambridge estimates less than one case among 500,000 international visitors, according to the statement. 

The Ministry of Health also noted that the virus is currently present in 60 countries, and that Brazil represents 15 percent of the total population exposed to the disease.

“We would also like to remind all that the period during the Olympic Games will actually be winter in Brazil, when historically the transmission of diseases hosted by Aedes aegypti, as is the case of Zika, reach their lowest level,” the statement read. “Between February and May this year, cases have fallen 87 percent. There is therefore no evidence or reason to cancel travel or participation in the competitions.”

Last week an emergency panel convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that there is a “very low risk” of further international spread of the Zika virus as a result of hosting the games, and that there should be no “general restrictions on travel and trade with countries [or] areas” associated with the virus. 

In an analysis in the Washington Post, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute Ashish K. Jha noted that another study had found that the Games could result in as few as 15 new cases of the Zika virus. Additionally, Brazil has hosted large events over the past few months, such as this February’s Carnival, which drew more than 1 million visitors, with “little evidence that it accelerated the spread of Zika.”

“Canceling the Olympic Games won’t change the fundamental dynamic that we live in a highly interdependent world where global travel is common and widespread,” Jha wrote. 

At the same time, some experts and travelers continue to express concerns. In an opinion piece in Forbes, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, and Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University Steven Salzberg argued that the Zika virus does not just pose a threat to pregnant women. According to Salzburg, some recent evidence also links the virus to Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), which causes the immune system to attack nerve cells, leading to paralysis and, in some cases, death. 

Additionally, a recent study by Allianz Global Assistance found that nearly half of Americans (49 percent) think that the Olympics should have been delayed (34 percent) or canceled (15 percent) to protect people from the virus.

The 10-question survey was administered to the U.S. internet population on May 26, 2016, through Google Consumer Surveys, receiving 2,110 responses.

What Travelers Should Know

With 50 days left to go until the Games begin, The Brazilian Tourism Board (Embratur), has released a new update on the event. For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, there will be a team of refugee athletes. Five runners from South Sudan, two swimmers from Syria, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a marathon runner from Ethiopia will march under the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony on 5 August at the Maracanã Stadium. The official slogan for the Games, which was just revealed this week, is “A New World.” The design of the Olympic medals this year will reflect that games, and the silver and bronze medals will be made using 30 percent recycled materials. 

Brazil’s Minister of Sports Leonardo Picciani recently announced that 70 percent of tickets for the Olympic Games and 55 percent of tickets for the Paralympics Games have been sold. Organizers expect to have 100 percent tickets sold by the beginning of the games, Embratur said.

Embratur is also launching a campaign to encourage citizens of Australia, Canada, the United States and Japan to take advantage of the visa waiver Brazil is offering during the Olympics. Embratur said it expects the campaign and the visa waiver to result in a 20 percent increase in international arrivals to Brazil. 

Last week the WHO also issued additional guidelines regarding how travelers can stay safe from the Zika virus during the Games: 

  • Pregnant women should not travel to areas with ongoing Zika outbreaks
  • Pregnant women should ensure safe sex practices or abstain from sex for the duration of their pregnancy if their sexual partners live in or travel to areas with Zika outbreaks
  • Travelers headed to Zika-affected areas should be provided with up-to-date advice on risks and measures to reduce the chance of exposure through mosquito bites and sexual transmission. Upon return, travelers should take measures, including safe sex, to reduce the risk of onward transmission
  • The WHO should regularly update its travel guidance with the most up-to-date information on the virus

Are your clients expressing concerns about the Zika virus? Let us know in the comments below.