Concerns over Rio Games
Zika virus now a concern for travellers
The virus has joined terrorism and extreme weather as one of the biggest worries for travellers and it is looming large over the Olympic Games in Brazil.
InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance comparison site, said it had received 20% more calls last week about the virus that can cause fever, rashes, joint pain or conjunctivitis. It has also been linked to birth defects among women in South America.
Several airlines have offered to reschedule flights or give refunds to passengers with tickets to areas of the world heavily hit by the Zika virus.
Authorities in Brazil are trying to reassure citizens and visitors alike that they can cope with the mosquito-borne virus and that there is no risk to the Games in Rio.
However, the healthcare system has struggled because of a lack of basic infrastructure and last month there were severe shortages of funds for drugs, equipment, and salaries.
Officials have announced that venues for the Games will be inspected on a daily basis to ensure there are safe water supplies.
But Brazil has been criticised for downplaying the risks of contracting the virus at the Olympics and the ongoing Carnival celebrations, which attract 1.5 million tourists a year.
The World Health Organisation has declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency.
>> Daily Business Comment: With the Zika crisis showing few signs of easing, there can be no excuse for the authorities in Brazil putting the country’s pride and finances in staging the Olympic Games ahead of public safety.
So far they have reassured travellers that there is no danger to visitors, but the World Health Organisation and others are not so sure.
There is still time for a compromise to be reached. Switching the Games to another venue – one which has all the facilities in place – would be logistically challenging, but surely feasible. In return, Brazil would be guaranteed the next tournament, pushing other venues back by four years.
It would play havoc with timetabling, international contracts and sponsorships. But the Games would not take place in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake. No one knows how the Zika virus will spread and without greater guarantees from the Brazilian authorities, there has to be a question over continuing with a sporting event, even the biggest of them all.