Meanwhile, the borough council in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, where the Hong Kong team and delegates are due to stay, has unanimously recommended to the local Special Olympics organizing committee that it should ask the visitors not to travel because of the risk from the pneumonia-like illness in the former British colony.
The taoiseach said he understood the “serious concern” and need for reassurance in towns due to host delegations from SARS-affected countries for the euro 57 million games. He stressed, however, the importance of keeping a “sense of perspective.”
“About 500 people in total are due to travel from SARS affected areas in China, Hong Kong and Canada,” he said. “Half of this number would be due to stay in host towns.”
The SARS situation was still evolving and the full details of health arrangements have not been finalized yet.
“In my own view, however, it is too early for any host town to decide that adequate arrangements to provide the kind of reassurance that is required on this issue cannot be put in place,” he said.
Tanaiste Mary Harney expressed regret about the Clonmel decision. “I think it is premature,” she said. “To make a decision like that in advance of the expert opinion from the [World Health Organization] and our expertise is regrettable and I hope that other towns don’t follow suit.
“This is the biggest sporting event being organized in the world this year. It is a marvelous opportunity to show what Ireland can do for Special Olympics and for people that have a disability.”
Health Department officials and a special government-appointed expert committee on SARS is consulting with the WHO about the arrival of athletes and team delegations from around the world on June 16.
Ireland is hosting the fortnight-long games for the mentally handicapped for the first time. For the last 30 years the games have always been staged in the U.S.
A feature of the program is the plan that involves 177 cities, towns and communities, north and south of the border, hosting the visitors. Many will be staying in peoples’ homes. About 35,000 have volunteered to help.
The games’ organizers are asking China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Canada to quarantine delegations before they travel.
No decision has been made about the length of the quarantine or how it will be monitored.
“We take our responsibilities on health and safety very seriously,” a games spokesman said. “People are traveling all the time to and from these countries at the moment.”
He said the response from the countries to the quarantine request had been “very positive.”
“There must be lots of doubt about people traveling backward and forward all the time, but we are going to be very cautious and take Special Olympics off the agenda as regards SARS,” he said.
A new suspect case involving a woman who returned from Toronto has been cleared. Only one confirmed case has been notified to the WHO by the government.
It involved a man who was treated in Castlebar Hospital in Mayo in March and made a full recovery.