At least five cases of H1N1 were confirmed earlier this week at one of Whistler’s elementary schools. But according to some parents, those numbers are actually much higher.

Not the kind of press that the 2010 Olympic organizers need to fuel the mounting public skepticism, with just 107 days before the opening ceremonies.

During the last few weeks, Canadians have seen a surge in H1N1 infections. B.C. already leads the country in the number of swine flu-related deaths, with 12 to date.

Tourists are already steering clear of the resort to avoid the price gouging and intense security that usually accompanies Olympic games, instead opting for cheaper ski vacations in the B.C. Interior.

VANOC and the province have been tight-lipped on their contingency plans during the Games, as the flu pandemic escalates. No word yet on whether public gatherings and sporting events will be severely restricted or even cancelled.

On October 28, Federal Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq announced that, “Canadians who feel ill should defer their travel plans until they’re better.”

Although Whistler only has 9,500 full-time residents, its population swells each winter with the influx of seasonal workers from Australia, Japan, Europe, and the Philippines. This winter, we can add the thousands of military and security personnel, media, volunteers and Olympic-related workers to the “germ soup.”

Interestingly, VANOC, the RMOW and RCMP held a community information session on the Olympics this past July for local residents. The Olympic PR machine had an answer for everything, except when it came to swine flu and its contingency plan. Instead, VANOC’s spokeswoman deferred all H1N1-related questions to VANOC’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jack Taunton, skirting the question.

It will take more than hand-washing stations installed at all the venues to combat what the WHO has already declared a “global pandemic.” Is it coincidence that two of VANOC’s recent sponsors are Cold-FX® and ALDA Pharmaceuticals, the makers of hand sanitizer and disinfectant cleaning products?

Garibaldi Health will be holding immunization clinics in Whistler starting November 4 and the lineups will be long.

Don’t be surprised if VANOC’s workforce and its 25,000 volunteers, along with Canadian athletes are given top priority. The B.C. government’s plans and H1N1 fact sheets are at:

We’ve gone too far down the Olympics course, to cancel or postpone the games at this point.

In the end, only Mother Nature (not corporate interests) has the power to alter the course of the games using means like influenza and/or El Niño.


Pina Belperio

Welcome to Word of the Rings, a new blog that aims to serve as a one-stop examination at what’s happening behind the scenes in the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. Pina...