Marlins, Pirates Games in Puerto Rico Canceled Due to Zika

  • 'No choice' but to cancel games, says Major League Baseball
  • Decision threatens tourism as commonwealth faces debt crisis

Major League Baseball and its Players Association agreed there was "no choice" but to move a two-game series between the Miami Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Puerto Rico, after a critical mass of players said they wouldn’t make the trip because of concerns over Zika virus.

"MLB and the Players Association did everything possible to adequately address the concerns raised by players and still play the games in Puerto Rico, but despite extensive efforts, they were unable to develop a workable solution," the statement said.

The decision to relocate the May 30 and 31 games to Miami’s Marlins Park could be a blow to Puerto Rico, which needs a healthy tourism industry to ameliorate its $70 billion debt crisis.

Angel Matos, head of the tourism commission for Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review earlier this week that a cancellation would be "unfair, disproportionate, and makes our country look bad. It’s an act of touristic terrorism."

Of 631 cases of Zika reported in Puerto Rico since the beginning of 2015, only two have been contracted by travelers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The mosquito-borne virus, while mild in adults, can cause severe birth defects, and the agency recommends that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive shouldn’t travel there. Puerto Rico on Friday had 785 confirmed cases of the Zika virus, including 26 hospitalizations, according to the island’s Department of Health. A man on the island has died from the Zika virus, the CDC confirmed last week.

Tourism Consequences

The virus threatens to slow down the island’s growing tourism industry, the rare bright spot for Puerto Rico as its economy has shrunk an estimated 16.5 percent since 2007. Some conferences, tour groups and meeting events have decided to cancel their plans or postponed coming to the island, according to Milton Segarra, president and chief executive officer at Meet Puerto Rico, a non-profit organization that promotes conventions and events on the island.

Hotel activity increase in the first three months of 2015, even as information about Zika intensified. Hotel occupancy, average-room rate and revenue figures for January through March surpassed those for the same period in 2014, according to Clarisa Jimenez, president and chief executive officer of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association.

MLB said in lieu of the game it will stage several youth baseball and community events in Puerto Rico later this month, and Manfred and several former MLB players plan to attend. The league and the Players Association will also give money to the CDC Foundation to support the efforts to eradicate Zika in Puerto Rico.

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