IPL 2020: Huge Covid-19 testing drive under way as cricket stars flock to UAE

Medics will carry out more than 20,000 swab tests on players and staff to ensure the sporting spectacle can be held safely

A major Covid-19 testing drive has been launched ahead of the hotly-anticipated return of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament to the UAE next month.

The star-studded event - which features many of the sport's biggest names including India's Virat Kohli  - will be held in the Emirates for the first time since 2014 after a surge in coronavirus cases forced it to be moved from India.

Medical teams from VPS Healthcare will conduct more than 20,000 PCR swab tests of cricketers and support staff in hotels as part of a massive operation across the Emirates.

Groups of four senior UAE nurses have been assigned to each participating IPL cricket team in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi to collect tens of thousands of nasal swabs for coronavirus testing.

The testing began last week after eight franchises arrived in the country.

Facilities for testing have been set up in hotels and could extend to stadiums.

"We have a dedicated team that will perform the Covid-19 tests on the players throughout the 90 days," Safeer Ahamad, chief executive of VPS Healthcare Lifecare and Medeor Hospitals told The National.

“We have established collection units in all hotels where the teams are staying and we will deploy mobile team for swab collection wherever required.”

During stay-home and quarantine measures in place to slow the pandemic in the UAE, the healthcare company completed a quarter of a million tests in airports and in screening centres.

“We have chosen highly experienced individuals who have been the front-runners in managing Covid-19 related activities in the UAE,” Mr Ahamad said.

“The experience of frontline staff who actively participated in quarantine management will be used to ensure safety during this tournament.”

The matches will be played in a secure bubble but the Emirates Cricket Board has said it hopes fans will be allowed into venues later.

The popular tournament will be held in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi from September 19 to November 10.

“The tests will go up to three times a week. That is the kind of intense testing to ensure safety protocols are taken care. It’s a detailed schedule from the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) that we will follow,” Mr Ahamad said.

In addition to the 20,000-plus tests, swab will also be collected from hotel support staff and event management companies handling the games .

“All those part of the event will be tested by us,” he said.

“We are in discussion with the stadiums as well.”

Multiple laboratories run by VPS in Dubai and Abu Dhabi will check the samples collected.

Nurses are tested every 15 days as per the company’s regulatory protocols. During the IPL season, nursing teams linked with the IPL teams will be tested every five days.

Appointed the official Covid testing agency, the healthcare group is in discussion with the BCCI to handle other medical services and emergency.

The group has been the healthcare partner for the UFC Championship, Formula1 and international cricket matches held in the UAE.

“The other events were smaller and not as large in scale and as popular as the IPL cricket,” Mr Ahamad said.

“Our responsibility is to facilitate the bio-bubble by providing Covid-19 solutions for the tournament.”