New Delhi, Sep 24 : The bio-bubble arrangement that limits sportspersons' contact with the outside world and safeguards them from contracting Covid-19 is not completely impregnable, experts said on Friday.
A bio-bubble is a new concept introduced during Covid-19 for sportspersons and their support staff.
This essentially involves instituting protocols to be followed during hotel stay, travel or transportation to venues, training sessions, actual sports events and recreational spots.
It has been a great success at the recently concluded Olympic Games in Tokyo, with very few cases of Covid getting reported.
However, it has affected other games such as cricket, more recently the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Durand Cup football tournament.
"A bio-bubble or biosecure bubble is a new protocol put together to mitigate the risk of the SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission during sporting events.
As the name suggests, a bubble means and entails isolation of players, staff and other related personnel within strict controlled physical locations to ensure 'no' or 'limited' contact with folks outside the bubble," Veena P.
Menon, Professor of Clinical Virology, Amrita School of Medicine, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Kochi, told IANS.
IPL franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad's seamer Thangarasu Natarajan has recently tested positive for Covid, along with six close contacts, ahead of the team's match against Delhi Capitals in the UAE on Wednesday.
However, the match took place as scheduled.
Incidentally, the tournament was halted in May this year in India over Covid scare.
Similarly, the Army Red team were on Thursday forced to withdraw from their Durand Cup quarterfinal against FC Bengaluru United after Covid cases were detected in their squad.
The match has been called off.
According to media reports, to maintain the bio-bubble, the players and staff are even provided separate check-in counters at airports when they travel between matches, besides best healthcare facilities for players, including the option to airlift them to safety.
So how can the breach happen?
"We must recognise that the bubbles are protective to an extent, but they're not completely impregnable.
It is because Covid transmission is occurring due to aerosol spread, not just droplet spread," K. Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, told IANS.
"So, if the players/staff move for example in a hotel corridor, where somebody else might have discharged the virus, and as clouds are floating around, this can be a problem," he added.
Further, while masks offer a great deal of protection, there are times when people take off their masks.
For example, while dining indoors without much air flow. So there are opportunities for exposure. In such cases, vaccination helps prevent serious infection, hospitalisation and death.
According to Vivek Nangia, Principal Director and Head, Pulmonology, at Max Hospital, New Delhi, the latent period of the Covid virus may be the reason for the bio-bubble breach.
In the bio-bubble concept, players/staff must get themselves tested negative and then only they are allowed to enter into a hotel or into a complex with people who have already tested negative, and then one stays there as a policy and does not move out of it.
Since there is no interaction with the outside world, the possibility of catching the infection becomes lower.
"We all know that this virus also has a latent period, which could be anything up to 7 to 10 days.
So somebody who's been a carrier, despite testing negative, can subsequently develop the illness in spite of not having travelled anywhere," Nangia told IANS.
"The Covid test is usually done on the fourth or the fifth day, but you could be positive even later than that.
Because of the latent period, people can be carriers and then the disease can be detected later," he added.
In addition, there is also the possibility of Covid test reports showing "false negatives among those tested," Neha Gupta, Consultant, Infectious Disease, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, told IANS.
So why did the Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics not turn out to be a super spreader event, as feared?
"Japan's bio bubble system was very strong (during the Games) for which the organisers were praised by the world.
The way they got the Paralympics and Olympics done despite Covid scare was really appreciable," J.P. Singh, the coach of the Indian para powerlifting team, told IANS.
Singh said the players used to get tested (for Covid) everyday and were not allowed to go outside the Games Village.
And if any new team joined, they had to go through a mandatory three-day quarantine period.
"The Japanese are used to wearing masks, even before Covid.
Anybody who catches a cold is supposed to wear a mask in order to protect others. It's part of their civic sense/culture, unlike in India where wearing masks is an imposition," Reddy said.
(Rachel V Thomas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)