If you agree that Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions work to put people in a sort of cocoon, then you will appreciate why being placed in a bio-bubble is like operating in a shell within a shell. And the pressure has by now started to tell on sportspersons and athletes who have returned to sports arenas even as the pandemic blows hot and cold outside. As the Olympics is set to get underway in Tokyo next week, here’s a look at how bio-bubbles have fared in sports.
What Are The Concerns Over Bio Bubbles?
While several sporting events have had to be cancelled or deferred, many big ticket events have been successfully staged, including the Euro Cup and Copa Awerica football tournaments, the World test Championship final between India and New Zealand, the French Open and Wimbledon among major tennis events. etc.
Any event has perforce had to function under strict safety protocols and checks given that restrictions have been in place in most countries as governments and health authorities tried to control the spread of new infections. England and Wales Cricket Board CEO Tom Harrison has said that even though the organisers are mulling significant easing in restrictions for the upcoming England-India Test match, they would have to conform to guidelines set by the authorities.
“The guidelines are set down by Public Health England (PHE) so we don’t have the ability to create new guidance just for cricket that isn’t sanctioned by PHE or central government,” he was quoted as saying recently, adding that, “it isn’t impossible to operate within the context of those guidelines to have a successful environment”. His comments come as england is ready to enter the final stage of the easing of Covid-19 curbs from July 19. The country has hosted the final, and several matches earlier, of the just-concluded Euro Cup, which saw most host countries allow limited crowds back into stadiums.
Harrison has suggested that while some protocols are inevitable and would be maintained, “players are just fed up with bio-security and bubbles and that language we have become so used to using”.
“It’s had such a detrimental impact on mental health for players, time away from families. We are just not able to operate that kind of environment going forward,” he was quoted as having said by Cricbuzz. Players like Team India captain Virat Kohli and Australian Mitchell Starc have said that bio bubbles are “not sustainable” but bio bubbles have so far been a necessary feature of sports in the time of Covid, and there is an elaborate one to be in place for the Olympics.
Do Bio Bubbles Help?
A bio bubble is essentially a zone inside which all the people are insulated from outside contact. Within the area designated as being the bio bubble, people can mix with relaxed protocols but they cannot leave the bio bubble or have contact with those outside. For example, for the Wimbledon this year, players were given a list of specific hotels where they could stay, thus creating a bio bubble and preventing unecessary exposure.
The people in a bio bubble would normally have taken multiple Covid tests to be allowed inside and while there, depending on the length of the engagement, undergo multiple tests. The Indian Super League, a five-month tourney that ended in March this year and was held in Goa is regarded as being a successful example of a bio bubble at work as the event went off without a single case reported inside the bubble. According to The Telegraph, “Eighteen bio-bubbles in the coastal state’s 14 hotels and nearly 70,000 RT-PCR tests on 1,635 people helped the smooth functioning of the ISL”.
However, the Indian Premier League (IPL) was not as lucky and had to be suspended when several cases among players and support staff tested positive after the bubble failed to hold. The T20 tournament will now be back in September, but will be held in UAE, where last year’s edition was held.
How Strict Can Bio Bubbles Be?
Experts say stringent protocols and their serious implementation are what bio bubbles are all about. The US National Basketball Association (NBA) was another event that was successfully concluded last year without a single case being reported. But the event had very strict rules that saw strict social distancing within the bubble and frequent testing and efficient contact-tracing protocols.
Popular Mechanics quoted infectious diseases expert as saying that, “If we could do everywhere what the NBA is doing in its bubble, we would get rid of the virus”.
However, experts do agree that it can take a mental toll, especially for those who may have to spend months in a bio bubble. Like, say, the Indian cricket team, who started with a bubble for IPL 2020 last year in September then went on a three-month tour of Australia before hosting England for a two-month tour. Then they took part in this year’s IPL till it was cut short and headed thereafter to England for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand and where they are now set to play England next. In the meantime, wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant and a member of the training staff have tested positive for Covid.