RIO DE JANEIRO, 7th February, 2016 (WAM) — Brazilian organisers have reiterated they have no intention of cancelling the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because of the outbreak of the Zika virus, with sports minister George Hilton saying the topic “is not in discussion.”

Mr. Hilton issued a statement, which was carried and quoted by The Associated Press, saying he “lamented material and opinions in the press” speculating that South America’s first Olympics might be called off.

“The Brazilian government is fully committed to ensure that the 2016 Rio games take place in an atmosphere of security and tranquility,” Mr. Hilton wrote.

Brazil is the epicentre of an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which the World Health Organisation has called “an extraordinary event and public health threat”.

Health officials are investigating whether there is a link between Zika infections in pregnant women and a rare birth defect.

International Olympic Committee President, Thomas Bach, earlier this week said he was “very confident” the games would take place. And Rio organisers have repeatedly said there is no talk of calling off the games.

Mr. Hilton said the WHO had not banned travel because of Zika, although pregnant women have been advised not to travel to areas with the virus.

Hilton also noted that the cooler, drier Brazilian weather in the South American winter, when the games open on 5th August, will drive down the mosquito count.

The Zika virus adds to other problems with South America’s first Olympics, including severe water pollution in Rio’s sailing and rowing venues, and deep cuts of almost 30 percent to keep a US$2 billion operating budget in balance.

Only about half of the domestic tickets for the game have been sold, and organisers fear the Zika outbreak could scare off foreign tourists.

“The 2016 Rio games will take place with full attention to the health of the participants,” Mr. Hilton said.

WAM/tfaham/Moran