Officials focus on H1N1 plan ahead of Olympics
Plans to deal with a pandemic during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are being revamped in light of alarming forecasts that the H1N1 virus is likely to get worse this winter, just as thousands of people are converging in Vancouver and Whistler.
"It's going to get bigger in the fall. So we need to keep focused on what we need to do now," said Dr. David Butler-Jones of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
"The challenges for the fall [relate to issues like] is this going to be a different disease than the one we've seen in the last four months," added Dr. Donald Low, Chief Microbiologist with Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.
Doctors say big clusters of people that will arrive during the Games can be breeding grounds for viruses.
It is why earlier this year, the Mexican government banned spectators from soccer stadiums in a bid to keep H1N1 from spreading.
During the Olympics, experts say our health care system must be prepared to respond should the virus spread.
"We have to be prepared to handle tourists who may not be familiar with our system and to make sure we have good diagnostic facilities in place,'' said Stephen Corber of Simon Fraser University Health Sciences Dept.
"Rapid diagnosis and good treatment facilities are available should people become ill."
Federal Olympics Minister Gary Lunn says he is satisfied that preparations to deal with a pandemic are well underway.
"This is something we're actively engaged in to make sure that whatever we need to do, whatever precautions we need to take to ensure these games come off [are being taken],'' said Lunn,
"And so yes it's something that's top of mind in our discussions."
Still, concern about the potential impact of H1N1 on the Games was hi-lighted this week with word that the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee's (VANOC) latest sponsor produces hand sanitizers.
"This is one component of our pandemic plan and, complimented by a full vaccination plan," said VANOC's Dr. Jack Taunton.
If an H1N1 vaccine becomes available before the games, 2010 organizers say they won't be at the front of the line.
That said, they are talking with the public health agency about what kind of access Olympic staff, volunteers and athletes might have to the vaccine.
With a report by CTV British Columbia's Mike Killeen