IPL 2020: How rigorous testing and bio-bubbles will keep cricket stars safe in the UAE

Robust safety measures are in place ahead of the start of the Indian Premier League on Saturday

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Strict safety measures remain in place as the world's biggest cricket league prepares to swing into action in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

International sports stars are being closely monitored in bio-secure bubbles and intensive protocols are being followed ahead of the first ball being bowled in an Indian Premier League (IPL) set to be played out amid a pandemic.

While coaches and players will leave no stone unturned to secure victory on the field, organisers have adopted the same single-minded mentality to ensure the lucrative spectacle is hosted safely and successfully.

Hotel rooms and stadiums where PCR swab tests are being conducted have been fitted with hospital-grade air filters to contain the spread of Covid-19 infections.

Medics in ambulances at the stadium will check for high temperature and other coronavirus symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath before allowing cricket crew and workers inside.

The Twenty20 games kick off between Mumbai Indians, the defending IPL champions, and Chennai Super Kings on Saturday at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium.

How are IPL teams being kept safe?

"We are setting up medical rooms manned by a doctor and nurses at the stadium and there will be ambulance services for all emergencies," Dr Pankaj Chawla, operations director of Burjeel Medical City told The National.

“Anyone entering the stadium will be screened for fever or any Covid-19 symptoms. The checks start from 9am in the morning.

“Apart from the teams, anyone involved in the IPL from crews who are setting up the billboards to the commentators, everyone is getting tested on a very regular basis.”

In Abu Dhabi, the cricketers, officials and broadcast crew are restricted to the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont hotels.

Separate groups of VPS Healthcare nurses conduct PCR swab tests on players from the Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders teams and support staff in Abu Dhabi.

The medics also test officials from the Emirates Cricket Board and Board of Control for Cricket in India, broadcast crew and workers readying the stadium for the 53-day tournament.

A similar protocol is being followed for all eight teams living in hotels across the Emirates and crew in cricket grounds in Dubai and Sharjah.

What happens if Covid-19 cases are detected?

Contingency measures are in place with a triage system set up if Covid-19 symptoms are detected.

“Anyone with a fever or cough will be screened out in the beginning and will move out so chances of spread will be absolute minimal or near zero,” Dr Chawla said.

“If any person is found positive we will immediately repeat his test to confirm. If the second test is positive, he will be moved out to an identified isolation hospital or hotel based on whether he is symptomatic or asymptomatic as per Department of Health protocols.”

Regular medical tests will then be conducted with swab tests every third day until the isolated patient has two consecutive negative tests.

IPL makes UAE return in unique times

The much-anticipated event 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.

Each cricketer takes a PCR test every five days.

The rigorous screening is critical to quickly identify positive cases and catch the virus before it spreads to ensure the games continue until the last match is played on November 10.

Medical teams from VPS Healthcare will conduct more than 20,000 PCR swab tests in a massive operation.

“We have created separate swabbing rooms in each bubble and only the nurses will be in close contact with team members,” Dr Chawla said.

“We sanitise the room and clean up any touch point areas before starting the swabbing. Each swab room in the hotels and stadium has HEPA filters that have been placed through which air will be filtered continuously and the air gets disinfected through ultra violet rays.”

This was in reference to air recycled through High Efficiency Particulate Air filters typically being used in hospitals and on airplanes to contain contamination in case an infection is detected during swab testing.

Dr Chawla said every cricketer was given a detailed schedule of the date and time for the tests.

Thousands of swab tests already conducted

Swabs were taken between 8am to 5pm and results released from 7pm until midnight.

More than 3,000 PCR tests have been conducted in Abu Dhabi alone since the teams arrived last month.

IPL organisers have cautioned teams that cricketers or owners would be penalised if the bio-secure bubble is breached.

In case of an accidental breach, the player will be placed in isolation for a week and required two negative tests to re-enter the bubble.

Indian fast bowler Deepak Chahar returned to the team after recovering and is undergoing fitness tests.

“From what I have observed, everybody is sensitised. They feel they are responsible for ensuring the IPL goes smoothly and without any hiccups. It is their social responsibility too," Dr Chawla said.

“Regular testing makes every team member and those taking care of them ensure they keep safe.”

The teams have posted videos on Twitter and YouTube showing the cricketers training in their hotel rooms and the cricket grounds.

Aditya Tare, the Mumbai Indians wicketkeeper, in a video said he was grateful the tournament was being held in the Emirates.

He spoke of how spending time with family eased the anxiety during the early days of strict lockdown in India.

“There was a bit of fear because of the uncertainty. What’s going to happen, how deadly the virus is and what the effect is going to be,” he said.

“At the end of the day, you are getting to play the sport that you love and you have got to  respect this country UAE for allowing our league to be happening here in this current world scenario.

“We have to consider ourselves fortunate and be grateful for this opportunity.”