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Chaos as Indian shuttlers in Bangkok go through Covid scare, later cleared to play

IT WAS a harrowing day for Indian shuttlers at the Super 1000 in Bangkok — badminton’s first major unlockdown tournament inside a bio-bubble — with the Badminton World Federation saying that Saina Nehwal and H S Prannoy had tested positive for Covid-19 before allowing them to play, based on the antibody test taking cognizance of them having been infected earlier in December.

By Tuesday evening, the BWF declared that the entire India squad was cleared to play.

According to the BWF, the Thailand Public Health Ministry’s six-member “working group” of doctors initially determined that Nehwal and Prannoy, and a German player, had “tested positive on the PCR test”. But they also said that the players’ “antibody IgG was positive”.

“A positive antibody test means a person has been infected with the Covid-19 virus at some point in the past. It does not mean they are currently infected. The trio all contracted Covid-19 in late 2020. The committee was satisfied that they are not infected and do not pose a danger to the tournament,” it said.

According to experts, a positive antibody test usually suggests that a person had been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in the past. Guidelines issued by the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US state that those who receive positive results on an antibody test but don’t have symptoms of Covid-19, and have not been near those who may have the virus, are not likely to have a current infection.

After the earlier positive result, the Indian players underwent a second PCR test and an antibody blood test for further confirmation.

But nothing better illustrated the situation in Bangkok than Kidambi Srikanth posting pictures of his bleeding nose after “unpleasant testing”. “We take care of ourselves for the match not to come and shed blood for THIS. However, I gave 4 tests after I have arrived and I can’t say any of them have been pleasant. Unacceptable,” he wrote on social media.

National coach P Gopichand told The Indian Express from Hyderabad that the players were “near helpless” over those eight hours in Bangkok. “The players were left with no option but to follow the rules of organisers… the least BWF can do now is allow Saina and Kashyap to play their matches tomorrow (the first round matches are still on),” he said.

Asked about Srikanth’s case, the BWF spokesperson said: “A doctor from the Department of Disease Control and the COVID-19 testing team is attending to Srikanth Kidambi. BWF is still awaiting a medical explanation from the Badminton Association of Thailand and the Department of Disease Control as to the reasoning for the occurrence.”

Around midday Tuesday, the entire squad underwent a round of tests after Saina was declared positive even as Prannoy delivered a positive result and then retested negative over the previous 24 hours. P Kashyap was withdrawn by the organisers since he was a contact of Nehwal.

An Indian coaching staff member was livid at the turn of events. “Some fellow just comes and tells you (Saina) that you are positive. And your husband (Kashyap) will need to isolate. Then you have to travel from hotel to one hospital to another. And all players are told ‘now sit down, we’ll poke your nose’. Our players are in a foreign land and have to follow the rules set by organisers. But this is a very unprofessional way of conducting a tournament,” the member said.

Over 300 tests had been done on the shuttlers in Hyderabad where most of them are based. Saina and Prannoy had tested positive mid-December, but resumed training after recovering and testing negative. Moreover, they have been in strict quarantine and had been declared negative in the first two Covid tests over the last week.

In the fall of last year, three Indian shuttlers’ entries were withdrawn by organisers of the SaarLorLux International in Germany, when a support staff member tested positive.

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