Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE’S preparations for next month’s CHAN tournament were thrown into disarray yesterday after 14 members tested positive for Covid-19.
Nine players and five officials had by last night tested positive, forcing Zifa to cancel training.
The players and officials took Covid-19 tests upon their return from the Christmas holidays training hiatus on Monday.
“Yes it is true that five more positive cases have been confirmed. The new cases are non-playing staff”
Zifa communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela said last night.
The identities of the affected players were kept under wraps, but the individuals have since been notified and quarantined in line with World Health Organisation protocols.
Sources told The Herald yesterday that six of the players who tested positive are based in the Southern Region.
Gwesela said the association responded by suspending the training camp until another round of testing is conducted in the next three days in case some of the negative tests were still in the incubation period.
It has also emerged that the Warriors technical team has placed 11 new players on standby and could fill the slots in the event that positive cases do not recover on time for CAF registration deadlines.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association would like to inform the football fraternity and the nation at large that nine players who are part of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) provisional squad have tested positive to Covid-19.
“In adherence to our Covid-19 medical protocols, all players and members of the technical team were tested on Monday (28 December 2020) upon their return from festive break and the nine were ruled to have tested positive.
“All the affected players have been notified and quarantined in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) dictates. The players have also been advised to inform their families and contacts.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association has also informed the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Sport and Recreation Commission (SRC) and the City Health Department for further guidance.
“Meanwhile, ZIFA has temporarily suspended all training sessions for the CHAN team pending consultation with other stakeholders, but the team remains in camp until further notice,” said Gwesela.
The CHAN tournament is scheduled to kick off in Cameroon on January 16 and ends on February 7. The Warriors are expected to leave for the tournament on January 11.
National teams are expected to register their final 23 players at least 10 days before the tournament.
The team, under the tutelage of Zdravko Logarusic, has been trying to utilise the little time they had to prepare for the tournament.
The players returned negative results the first time they tested before ahead of the initial phase of the training camp on December 6.
The players were given a week’s break for the Christmas holidays on December 20. But during the camp they also played practice matches with a number of local teams, whose players have not been in a bubble.
There is also the possibility that the Warriors were exposed during the Christmas weekend when they visited family, friends and places of entertainment.
They returned in camp on Sunday and tests were conducted before the resumption of training sessions the following day, leading to the detection of the positive cases. None of them showed any signs or symptoms.
Team manager, Wellington Mpandare, described the outbreak of the disease in their camp as a huge setback. He said contact tracing will be conducted for all the positive cases
“Right now, training has stopped completely and players will be tested again after three or so days. We have since notified the relevant authorities and we are now waiting for the Ministry of Health officials to visit the camp and give us the way forward.
“We will be guided by whatever instructions they give us. Contact tracing will be done for everyone who tested positive and we just hope the players will recover soon.
“It’s a huge setback but we are also praying that it doesn’t affect our travelling plans. On the other hand, it’s a blessing in disguise because the positive cases were detected here.
“It was going to be problematic if the positive tests were going to be recorded after we had arrived in Cameroon. So we have placed 11 players on standby in the event that these guys don’t recover on time. As of now, no one has been released from the squad,” said Mpandare.
This development comes at a time when the nation is struggling to contain the rising number of cases in Zimbabwe in recent days. The confirmed new Covid-19 cases across the nation surpassed 13 000 over the weekend.
Complacency has been creeping into society following the successes recorded in the fight against the global pandemic but Government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have been clear virus still poses a dangerous threat.
Football is one of the sports that have been categorized by Government among the high risk activities because of its highly physical contact nature.
But this is not the first time that a national team camp has been plagued by the coronavirus pandemic.
Recently, the national cricket team had to quarantine two players and two others members of staff following positive COVID-19 cases during the preparations for the tour of Pakistan.
The rest of the players tested negative before leaving for, and upon their arrival, in Pakistan. The coronavirus has threatened sport at every level.
Neighbouring Mozambique national football team also encountered the same challenge in September when four of the their members tested positive for coronavirus ahead of a training camp in Portugal. However, the recovery rate among sports people has been phenomenal.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc even in big leagues such as the English Premiership. Testing on players and staff in England’s top-flight is to double to twice a week in areas of the country under tier four restrictions.
The Premier League revealed yesterday that 18 individuals tested positive for Covid-19, the highest number of cases in a week this season.
Since the new season kicked off, 131 individuals in the English top flight have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in 17 rounds of testing.
Manchester City have confirmed another four positive tests for Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker and two staff members. A growing Covid-19 outbreak at Manchester City led to the postponement of their Premier League match against Everton on Monday and forced the team to close their training ground.
Pep Guardiola’s team had announced on Friday that striker Gabriel Jesus and defender Kyle Walker had tested positive for Covid-19 along with two staff embers. City were able to play Newcastle on Saturday.
Arsenal defender Gabriel has also been ruled out for at least two matches after testing positive for coronavirus at t weekend. The Gunners revealed on Boxing Day that the Brazil star was self-isolating after a close contact tested positive for the disease, missing the 3-1 home victory over Chelsea.
Some clubs have taken extraordinary measures after Premier League club Wolves announced they have banned their players from shopping amid fears they could catch Covid-19 with infections rising across England.