Sports physician Dr Thulani Ngwenya has allayed fears that the recent spate of confirmed positive Covid-19 tests that hit local football will directly affect the PSL’s plans to resume the campaign.
Several PSL clubs across the premier and first divisions have been conducting mass testing over the past week in anticipation of returning to training – and some have returned positive results.
Those with confirmed cases so far are Absa Premiership sides Kaizer Chiefs (two), Bloemfontein Celtic (one) and Stellenbosch FC (three staff members), as well as GladAfrica Championship campaigners Swallows FC and TS Galaxy (three each). The majority of individuals who tested positive are believed to be asymptomatic.
All these cases – which were reported in the space of three days – coincided with government’s announcement on Wednesday that football could be played again.
Ngwenya, however, believes the cases won’t directly affect plans to restart the sport.
“We’re not really all that surprised. It was expected that a number of players would test positive, as it’s part of the process, given how South Africa’s doing when it comes to Covid-19,” explained Ngwenya, who has also been appointed as Safa’s Covid-19 compliance officer.
“We know our cases are rising steadily; we’re now in winter and we’ll only reach our peak of infections by August. We’re expecting more positive cases because some clubs haven’t done the testing yet.”
He cited his pet project – the Sports Medicine Africa Clinic, which he co-founded with three other local sports physicians – as another example of reality hitting home.
“We’ve got five members who tested positive and we’re managing them, as well as those who are negative,” he said.
Other leagues have dealt with similar challenges in the face of Covid-19. The return to action of two of the first major leagues – the German Bundesliga and the English Premier League – were also preceded by multiple positive cases.
This, however, did not derail plans to restart the leagues, as the test results were seen as a signal for sports controlling bodies such as the PSL to factor in serious considerations as they edge closer to their reopening.
“This first part of the process of testing gives us an opportunity to manage those who are infected, isolate them and make sure that, when they join the rest of the players, they’re free of the virus. But we’re also thrilled by the behaviour of players, because when you have three positive tests in a whole squad, it tells you that most of the players have been following the precautionary measures.
“We assume that teams haven’t started training and there’s no need to panic,” said Ngwenya, who holds an MB BCh degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a master’s degree in sports medicine from the University of Pretoria.
The Bafana Bafana team doctor continued: “By giving us the green light, government actually endorses all the hard work and effort we’ve put into observing the safety and health protocols document.
“The next step is for us to implement everything in that document, which was adopted by the joint liaison committee, submitted to government and ratified by it.
“My scope of work is to liaise with compliance officers in the clubs to ensure we’re all on par, according to the protocols.”
Ngwenya was part of the joint liaison committee, alongside his PSL counterpart Lervasen Pillay.
The clubs were hoping to return to training last week, but government had yet to give the go-ahead.
A PSL executive meeting deliberated on this on Thursday, and there will be a follow-up meeting this week, which could ultimately give a clear directive to the teams before they return to their training grounds.
The clubs will need to meet all the Covid-19 safety protocols.
Once this stage has been passed, they’re expected to undergo another set of tests, which will be their “passports” to enter the competition stage, according to Ngwenya.
While Covid-19 is a public health issue and some people were expecting the clubs to identify their affected members, Ngwenya said doctor-patient confidentiality would be adhered to.
“I can’t identify any infected person unless they’ve given me written consent to do so. However, it’s my duty to tell other members of the team and club that someone has tested positive.”