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2016 Olympics: Rio Upbeat Despite Zika, Economic Woes in Brazil

Economic, political and medical troubles cloud Brazil's upcoming Olympics. But that's not getting Rio residents down.
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — While bad news has been pouring out of Brazil, residents of the Olympic host city are still characteristically upbeat.

With the Rio 2016 Olympics just under six months away, Paolo Wagner is pretty excited.

Image: Women with the Uniao da Ilha do Governador samba school wear Olympic ring hats during a pre-Carnival rehearsal
Women during a pre-Carnival rehearsal at the Sambodrome on Jan. 10.Mario Tama / Getty Images

"A lot of people [are] coming" and that is good for the economy because "everyone [will] work a lot," the taxi driver said. "People come with money — they help us too."

Rio needs the help.

When it was awarded South America's first Olympic games, Rio rejoiced. Tens of thousands partied Brazilian-style, dancing on Copacabana beach. Back then, in 2009, Brazil was one of the world's fastest-growing economies and winning the Olympic Games was a symbol of the nation’s progress.

Fast-forward to today, and the idea of Brazil as superstar is something of the past. It is going through a crippling economic crisis and political turmoil. President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment proceedings. Petrobas, the state-owned oil company and a major national economic force, faces multiple charges of bribery and corruption. Brazil’s economy is shrinking and inflation hitting double-digits.

And now mosquitoes bearing the Zika virus — an illness linked to the dangerous birth defect, microcephaly — are adding to Brazil's pre-Olympic woes. The World Health Organization has deemed microcephaly a global public health emergency.

Brazil's health ministry says there is no history of outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses in the southern hemisphere winter, when the Aug. 5-21 games will take place. Still, fears of the growing health emergency could keep competitors and fans away.

Related: More Countries Report Zika — as Airlines Offer Refunds

One of America’s biggest soccer stars — goalkeeper Hope Solo — recently told Sports Illustrated that if the Olympics were today, she wouldn’t go due to Zika.

At a recent Olympic test event in Rio, U.S. wrestler Alyssa Lampe told The Associated Press she would be taking extra precautions, such as wearing bug spray.

"Yeah it's kind of scary but there is nothing you can do," she said.

Her Brazilian competitor, Aline Silva, was more direct. "For me its concerning and even alarming," she told the AP.

But Rio 2016 officials say they're confident the games will be successful. The city's mayor, Eduardo Paes, reiterated on Jan. 22 that nearly all of the sporting venues and the athletes' village are ready. The budget for the games might have been cut by 20 percent from the original $9.8 billion, but officials insist the Olympic magic will still be there.

Related: Are Rio de Janeiro's Waters Safe Enough for the 2016 Summer Olympics?

In its favor are the ever-positive Cariocas, as Rio residents are known.

"It's going to be marvelous. It is going to be good. I can't wait," said Christina Marionetto while jogging along Copacabana beach.

Image: Emy Keleman
Emy KelemanNBC News

Retired school teacher Emy Kelemen was slightly more measured.

"I just hope everything turns out okay because ... Brazil is facing a lot of problems lately with the economy so bad, and the president is not so reliable," the 61-year-old said.

"But everything turns well in the end," she added.