Thu | Sep 20, 2018

Letter of the Day | Olympics cannot be halted now

Published:Thursday | June 2, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Recently, a group of about 100 eminent scientists called for the 2016 Olympic Games that are scheduled for Brazil to be cancelled, or at least moved. These scientists made the call because they are worried that as Brazil is now the epicentre of the Zika outbreak, having so many foreigners exposed to the virus could spell doom for their countries of origin when they go back home.

Now, while the concerns of these scientists, who one would suspect must know what they are talking about, have some merit, I really don't think that those games can be called off now - even if the organisers wanted to.

Ever since the modern version of the games began over a century ago, they have only been called off twice - during both world wars. So, unless World War III should start between now and the start of the games, it seems very likely that nothing will prevent the games from going on.

Indeed, the only way that those games could have been moved from Brazil is if the Zika outbreak had begun in earnest years ago - shortly after that country was chosen. As it is now, after spending so many billions of dollars building all sorts of sports and other infrastructures to host the games, there is no way anyone will take the calls of these scientists seriously.

However, the scientists who made the call do have at least one valid point: many parts of the world that now do not have a Zika problem may have one soon after the games. It is being claimed that some of these countries that are now Zika-free will get a Brazil-type epidemic after the games - and many of these countries lack adequate means to deal with the problem. So, maybe instead of calling for the games to be halted, these scientists probably should have called for these Zika-free countries to skip to games.

In fairness to Brazil, that country has been doing all it can to get to grips with the mosquitoes that are responsible for spreading Zika. The country has instituted a very intensive education programme about how the virus can be contracted and it has even been constructing large mosquito traps to reduce the vector population.

What these scientists fear, however, is that the 2016 Olympic Games may prove to be the spring board that Zika needs to be a truly global problem, and a very fatal problem for those countries with weak health-care systems that will not be able to cope. As such, these scientists should not be seen as a set of quacks.

Let's hope that for the sake of all, all will go well for the games and Zika will not be the stronger because of them.

Michael A. Dingwall