Canoe paddles and Zika-proof windows: Canada Olympic House in Rio unveiled
Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, June 2, 2016 10:22PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 2, 2016 11:37PM EDT
The Canadian Olympic Committee unveiled Thursday its final plans for the Canada Olympic House in Rio de Janeiro, the home base for Canadian athletes and their families when they arrive in Brazil in August.
Among the facility’s unique features are canoe paddles hung from ceilings, Hudson’s Bay curtains on the walls and screen windows designed to keep potential Zika-carrying mosquitos out of athletes’ bedrooms.
It’s one of several ways the COC aims to keep athletes safe from contracting the virus, which has become a national health crisis in Brazil.
Despite the added precautions, COC president Tricia Smith says the risk to athletes is low.
“One of our members is from Rio and she said, ‘You won’t see any mosquitos.’ She was just shaking her head. She said Zika is not the issue,” Smith told CTV News on Thursday.
Canadian athletes will also be given specialized mosquito repellent and long-sleeved shirts to wear throughout the 17-day event.
According to the Brazilian government, at least 1.5 million Brazilians may be infected by Zika and an estimated 4,000 babies have been born with microcephaly, a condition that leads to shrunken skulls and stunted brain development.
Despite the concerns, some Canadian athletes say the risk of Zika won’t deter them from competing. Canadian hurdler Sarah Wells said she hasn’t considered not attending the games, but said she’d understand if officials delayed the Olympics.
"If they postpone the games, I would support their decision," Wells said.
The World Health Organization said last Saturday that there is "no public health justification" for postponing or cancelling the Rio Olympics over Zika. The statement came after an open letter penned by 150 health officials that called for the games to be delayed or moved “in the name of public health.”
A report released Thursday by the International Olympic Committee backed up those claims. According to the report, no cases of Zika virus have been found in more than 7,000 athletes and 8,000 volunteers in Rio early to prepare for the games.
But some health officials say the larger influx of tourists and athletes in August means that pockets of the virus could emerge after the games.
"What is the risk of 500,000 or more people moving across borders into Brazil and then going back across borders to wherever it is that they come from,” said Dr. Barry Pakes, a public health physician and ethicist in Toronto.
Brazil has ramped up efforts to crack down on Zika. Insecticides and genetically modified mosquitos have been released to combat the virus’ spread, and a national health awareness campaign has been launched with posters and TV ads across the country.
Canada isn’t the only country safeguarding its athletes against Zika. In South Korea, athletes have been given special mosquito-proof uniforms designed with high collars, ascots, long pants and socks.
With a report from CTV’s Peter Akman and files from The Canadian Press