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Canadian Olympic Committee Says Zika And Water Concerns Are 'Over-Hyped'

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The Canadian Olympic Committee's chief medical officer feels that water concerns and Zika virus worries have been overhyped leading into the Rio Olympics.

Dr. Bob McCormack said Wednesday that Canadian athletes don't feel water problems will be an issue since quality tests have met international standards at event venues.

And he added the incidence of Zika, dengue fever and other mosquito-borne viruses "has just fallen off a cliff.''

"It has almost disappeared completely,'' he said after the Canadian Olympic Committee news conference. "There are many other areas of the world that have a much greater problem than Rio does now.''

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(With only 1 day for the start of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the Guanabara Bay waters continue with high levels of pollution caused by sewage and garbage floating).

Water quality and Zika were the main talking points during McCormack's 10-minute availability two days before the opening ceremony. At one point, he was asked directly if those issues were overblown in the leadup to the Games.

"We feel that we have a good plan in place.''

"I would say that 'Yes' is your answer,'' he replied.

Recent reports have said that viruses and bacteria from sewage are at dangerously high levels, with one biomedical expert advising that athletes shouldn't put their heads under water.

However, McCormack said some reports were based on methodology that's not internationally accepted and then stories often gained momentum despite not matching the experience of athletes and visitors to Rio.

"The problem of water treatment in Rio de Janeiro has not been completely solved,'' he said. "They've made great strides and their focus has been on the areas where the Olympics events are. It does not mean you can't find areas around where it's still an issue.''

Concerns about Zika, meanwhile, have been a constant for months. But McCormack was also confident it wouldn't be a problem either, mainly because it's winter in Rio and mosquito season has ended.

Whether it's for mosquitoes or the water, athletes have been advised to take necessary precautions just like they would before any international competition.

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(The entire region surrounding the Olympic Village Rio 2016 and around the Rio 2016 Olympic Park received large infrastructure works, but the environment seems to have been left in the background. The waters of rivers and lakes in the region are heavily polluted. There are points polluted with sewage, floating garbage, and points of silting. All this just a few meters away from where the worldwide athletes are staying, increasing the risk of infection with Zika virus, since there are many places with standing water.)

"There are many jurisdictions in Canada that intermittently have problems with water quality,'' McCormack said. "The same thing has happened here but at the moment, because of the measures the Brazilians have taken, the eco-boats, the diverting booms, trying to deal with some of their basic infrastructure, it's better than it has been in the past.''

Swimming Canada high performance director John Atkinson said athletes will prepare for the conditions just like they did when they competed here last year.

"When the test event took place in Copacabana last August, FINA (swimming's governing body) did a study,'' he said. "No athletes actually got sick following the event, including the Canadians that competed. We've had regular water quality updates from FINA that have been done on the Copacabana water quality.

"We feel that we have a good plan in place.''

McCormack said he had no trouble going for a swim off Copacabana Beach _ not far from the open-water swimming venue _ during his last site visit to Rio.

"I don't swallow the water when I swim at home either,'' he said. "But I've been on the beach and I enjoyed it last time I was here.'''

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