Despite the concerns around COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), the initial plan was to play out the short three-ODI series between India and South Africa, the second and third games behind closed doors. But after the first ODI in Dharamsala was washed out, the remaining games were cancelled for the time being. Now back home, Dr Shuaib Manjra, CSA’s chief medical officer, told the South African side of the story of those few days.
How did CSA look at the situation before travelling to India?
Prior to the India tour, Cricket South Africa had engaged in a risk assessment to determine whether it was safe for us to travel to India. At that point in time, India had about 30 cases isolated. None of the cities that we were going to play in [Dharamsala, Lucknow and Kolkata] had any cases recorded of the novel coronavirus. And, at that point, the world was a very different place. We deemed the risks to be very low, and therefore we proceeded with the tour while taking the necessary precautions.
How did things change while the team was in India?
While on tour in India, the world had clearly become a different place and we had to take cognizance of the fact that there was a change in global environment. Largely, the pandemic had moved from the east to the west, where Europe had become the new epicentre of the disease, the United States was affected, the World Health Organization had called it a global pandemic and countries were closing their borders.
But since we were in India, we had to look at a number of scenarios: the local conditions in India, which was still considered as a low-risk country; we had to look at what was happening in South Africa, which was at low to medium risk, and then we had to look at the global environment, as to what was happening in the world in places like Europe, including France, Spain and Italy, and also in the United States, where we saw a rapid escalation of the disease.
Looking at all three conditions, we had to predict where this disease was going to go and what the potential risks were for the tour. Some of the risks were that a few countries would close their borders and we would remain stuck in one country or the other. South Africa itself may have closed its borders, with the entire team stopped from leaving India or entering South Africa; or alternatively, we would have been quarantined or isolated in South Africa. So those were some of the scenarios that we thought of, but importantly and ultimately, it was the players’ frame of mind that was the determining factor.
In fact, Joe Root, England’s captain, had said the same thing about their tour to Sri Lanka [which was also cancelled] though Sri Lanka had fewer cases than England did. But the players were in a different frame of mind – they were thinking about what was happening back home to their families, the risks about being stuck in Sri Lanka, the medical services in Sri Lanka, and therefore, they decided to go back home. So the players’ frame of mind had an important role to play in terms of the decision made by the BCCI in consultation with Cricket South Africa.
Was everyone comfortable while in India? What safety measures were taken?
Absolutely [comfortable]. We ensured that the players were isolated in their hotels and every place that they were being transferred to – the hotel, the grounds, the team bus or the aircraft – was appropriately sanitised. They were not allowed to leave or go out and we ensured we had sufficient security around us to ensure that we didn’t get close to the public. We took sufficient means to ensure that the players were protected. Some even decided to wear masks while they were travelling.
So, from the chain of movement that we had, we ensured that whether it was the change-room attendant or anyone else and even in the restaurants that we went to, they were all wearing masks. So, from their point of view, we were pretty isolated and largely immunised from the outside world, which also reduced the risk of infection significantly. And so we did take appropriate measures; we even travelled from city to city by a chartered flight and were whisked through airports and security. Even after we landed, we were similarly whisked through the security into the team bus and the hotel. So in a sense, we were in a quarantined state.
What is the scenario for the next couple of weeks?
We relied on expert evidence and guidance such as the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, the Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control in the United States and the World Health Organization. We looked at the recommendations that they have made for different countries, which they have divided into high-risk, medium-risk and low-risk countries. Even with medium- and low-risk countries, they have made specific recommendations. Some of our own measures have been educating the players about the disease – what it is, what it means, what the symptoms are, recognising the symptoms, monitoring themselves in terms of temperature and any other symptom that could come with respect to COVID-19. So we are comfortable that they know what the symptoms of the disease are.
What has been your recommendation to the team?
We have continued to make our experts available to them, so should they have any concerns about the symptoms even post the tour, they would contact us or the medical staff closest to them from the cricket fraternity, who would assist them. We have recommended that all players either self-isolate or social distance them for a minimum of 14 days. That would be the proper way to protect people around them, the community, their families and, in particular, the vulnerable people in their families. In this period, should anyone develop such symptoms or any other factor that is a cause for concern, we will ensure that they are investigated appropriately and managed as per the protocols that are currently existing.