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AIFF acted instantly to curb Covid spread and suspend Hero I-League, says Dr. Mahajan

AIFF Media Team

NEW DELHI: Padma Shri Dr. Harsh Mahajan was a special invitee at the AIFF League Committee Meetings which were held on December 29, 2021 and January 3, 2022 wherein it was decided to temporarily suspend the ongoing Hero I-League due to rising Covid cases. Based on his advice, the Hero I-League is set to resume on March 3, 2022 and Dr. Mahajan took some time out to speak to to explain the decisions from a medical perspective, and what precautions are being taken ahead of the resumption of the league. EXCERPTS:

What was the thinking behind the decision to suspend the Hero I-League temporarily when we did at the end of December?

In one cluster (one hotel), about 40 of the players were infected and a few players in the other clusters as well. By that time, it was clear that the others may get infected as well because players were mixing within the cluster. Overall, in the country and in Kolkata itself, there was an increase in cases and also government mandates were due to come in.

So, keeping in mind the welfare of the players, the coaching staff and the other ancillary staff, we decided that it would not be right to continue operating and a decision was taken to suspend the league temporarily and postpone it for 6-8 weeks. Four weeks down the line, there was going to be a re-assessment as to what the situation would be like and then take a call on whether we could restart and that’s exactly what we followed.

What do you think could have been a possible reason for the breach of the bio bubble at this scale when so many players started testing positive?

Considering the fact that the Omicron variant is very infectious, it required only 1 or 2 people to get it or to spread it to others very quickly. Also, they were interacting, having food together, naturally with their masks off, so that also didn’t help matters. The breach wouldn’t have happened 40 times, but only a few times but it would have spread very rapidly.

Speaking of the Omicron variant, apart from being more infectious, how would you consider it different from other Covid-19 variants?

The Delta variant, as we know now, had much more severe symptoms and the Omicron is significantly milder. We also have the benefit of most people being double vaccinated and the vaccination would also have played a role in reducing the severity of the illness. Delta had a multi-system kind of effect and it affected lungs much more while Omicron’s effect on them is 10 times lesser, and that predominantly, this is an upper respiratory illness. Because of that, it is probably also more infectious as they say there is 70 times more virus load in the upper respiratory tract. Overall, we have seen much fewer severe cases with Omicron which could be a combination of it being a milder variant along with the fact that people are vaccinated.

Based on the advice you gave at that time do you believe the AIFF acted quickly to contain the spread and suspend the league immediately?

Yes, I must say that the AIFF acted not only quickly, but instantly. A decision was taken, the league was suspended, the players and the teams were sent home and they were also told to maintain Covid-appropriate behaviour. Just as we had planned, the second meeting was held four weeks down the line and during that, we realised that our projection of 6-8 weeks appeared to be correct and that in this variant which actually spread very quickly, the numbers also went down very quickly.

Do you think there is evidence to suggest some of these players might face any after-effects of Covid-19?

We’ve had a long Covid (symptoms persisting after 4 weeks) with the ancestral variant and one with the Delta variant as well. With Omicron, I think there needs to be more research to know whether we would have the pandemic for a long time. Of course, most people have recovered very fast and do not show lingering symptoms. The other thing that has also come to light is that the vaccine also reduces the number of long Covid cases and so it appears that those who have recovered may have permanently recovered. I use the term appear because we still need to wait and watch but it appears that the effect on the heart, which was seen in significant numbers in the first and the second waves, is much lesser, if any, in this third wave. Also, the neurological symptoms and lung involvement have been significantly lesser.

Would you say it is safe to resume Hero I-League operations again?

I would think so, yes. If we look at the advisory of the Health Ministry, the states have been asked to open up and I think we are in the right position to do so in a graded manner. The players will enter the bio bubble on February 20, 2022 and quarantine in their rooms for 7 days. During this time, they will be tested on Day 1, Day 4, and Day 7 with RT-PCR and only after the third test comes back negative, can they start training.

By Tanay Apte

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