Norovirus threat to Olympics matches Al-Qaeda

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety

The race is on to protect visitors to the Games from foodborne illnesses such as norovirus
The race is on to protect visitors to the Games from foodborne illnesses such as norovirus
Foodborne diseases, such as norovirus, are as big a threat to the Olympics as terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, according to a Home Office risk assessment.

As thousands of visitors crowd London streets for the Games, the Home Office ranks “natural events”​, such as an outbreak of norovirus, alongside terrorism, organised crime, extremism and public disorder as a serious threat.

The risk assessment warned: “The likelihood of a new, or newly recognised, infectious disease spreading to the UK is low.

"But, with large numbers of visitors entering the UK at that time, we will need to be alert to these and to the more likely, but less serious, risk of a food borne illness or an outbreak such as norovirus.”

Reputational risk

A spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency told “The importance of high standards of food safety at the Games cannot be underestimated. Food could pose a threat to public health and a reputational risk to the UK in the event of an outbreak of foodborne disease, food incident or food fraud.”

The authorities plan to expand monitoring systems in the run up to and during the Olympics to detect any virus as early as possible.

The agency has dedicated a team to co-ordinating the work of food safety officers in preparation for the Olympics. “We are working with LOCOG​ [The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games], contract caterers, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and other cross-government departments with specific emphasis on supporting local authorities,”​ said the spokeswoman.

The agency had run training courses and test exercises to check the preparedness of local authorities to respond to a food-related incident.

Hot spot

It also intended to drive up hygiene standards in what it describes as “hot spot”​ areas outside certain Olympic venues.

Grant money has been made available to local authorities for additional visits to venues. And food health hygiene training is being offered to traders.

The HPA said that it was enhancing its surveillance systems dedicated to recording the number of people with symptoms of infectious diseases attending GP surgeries or calling National Health Service (NHS) helplines.

The agency will focus on emergency departments, walk-in-centres and out-of-hours GPs, which are most likely to be used by international visitors.

There has never been a wide-scale outbreak of foodborne illness at a civic event in Britain.

But Kaarin Goodburn, secretary general of the Chilled Foods Association, said an outbreak of foodborne illness could happen all too easily. “It’s boring but really simple: People must wash their hands effectively.”

When large numbers of people gather together, attention to personal hygiene is always the key to preventing an outbreak foodborne illness, she added.

The NHS Choices website advised: “The first sign of norovirus is usually a sudden sick feeling followed by forceful vomiting and watery diarrhoea.

Some people may also have a raised temperature, headaches, stomach cramps and aching limbs​.”

The Home Office report was entitled London 2012 Olympic and Security Strategic Risk Assessment and Risk Mitigation Process

Related news

Show more


Hygienic Door Handles

Posted by sarah brown,

If the risk of diseases like norovirus spreading at the Olympics is very high, why don't the Olympic committe encourage hand hygiene by installing wall mounted hand gel dispensers around the olympic village? I have also seen a wicked new door mounter dispenser which would be perfect ( It is a door handle that cleans your hands with acohol hand gel automaticaly when you open the door. This is perfect for toilet door handles and will improve hand hygiene for everyone.

Report abuse

Hand washing will reduce spread but not the initial threat

Posted by Kaarin Goodburn,

Hand washing is a key tool to minimising the spread of norovirus. But it won't stop the initial point source or sources.

It would make more sense to convey this by saying: "Norovirus is highly transmissible. It's boring but really simple: to minimise its spread people must wash their hands effectively."

Report abuse

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast