‘Stricter than PBA’: Health protocols drawn up for training national athletes

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Dec 14 2020 08:16 AM | Updated as of Dec 14 2020 08:27 AM

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Stricter than the health and safety protocols of the just concluded 2020 PBA Philippine Cup bubble.

This was what Philippine Sports Commission William “Butch” Ramirez stressed on Friday when his agency laid down 10 conditions to allow national athletes and coaches in resuming actual training for the country’s international commitments, including the Tokyo Olympic Games and Vietnam Southeast Asian Games, in 2021.

Speaking to the media in a virtual press conference, Ramirez disclosed the steps he wanted done before he gives the go-signal for athletes and coaches to return to the gym. They are:

  • Consider forming an expert group of medical and health practitioners as advisers in the results during the conduct of COVID-19 testing;
  • Ensure the quality of the test and use of the test must be in agreement with the local public health authorities;
  • Testing is only an adjunct to preventive measures, which should always be implemented in the sporting environment.;
  • Considerations for close contacts of confirmed positive cases, quarantine and monitor daily temperature for symptoms;
  • Prior to the athletes gathering, consider performing two swab tests for COVID-19 prior to the event;
  • For asymptomatic athletes for screening, consider an immediate test, a repeat test and antibody test;
  • Interpret the result of the pre-test probability. If the athlete has symptoms but is negative. Repeat the test within 24 to 48 hours. If this is negative, consider alternative diagnosis;
  • For unusual test results, discuss with the expert group as soon as possible within 24 to 48 hours;
  • During post-COVID infection. Consider antibody testing 2 to 3 weeks after infection, because RT-PCR tests are not recommended 90 days after infection. Consider antibody tests 2 to 3 weeks after the initial infection;
  • For positive cases inside the bubble, isolate them, including those who have had close contact with the infected individual, and discuss with public health officials concerned. Consider testing for all close contact with the infected individual;

“These protocols are stricter than the PBA. And if you are not able to observe these protocols I will not allow any practice,” Ramirez noted. “But if we can do them we can start (training) even tomorrow.”

“Although there is autonomy for our partners – the national sports associations and the Philippine Olympic Committee – our policy is we will close down the training if just even one is infected.”

He said that even the plan for local Olympic qualifiers and qualifiers to train at the Inspire Academy in Calamba, Laguna would not push through “if these protocols are not observed,” pointing out that the PSC is an agency directly under the Office of the President.

“I am a 70-year-old man spending most of my life in sports so I would like to be diligent and not be remiss in my job,” Ramirez said.

The PSC chief added that he was being extra cautious after being isolated last month inside the PhiilSports Complex in Pasig City, where he lives in one of the dorms and has an extension office there, after his driver tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. 

“Hindi ko akalain na mag-isolate ako kasi last month my driver tested positive. I saw when you isolate, napakahirap. I don’t usually go out. (I never thought I would have to isolate last month. I saw the hardships when you isolate,” Ramirez said of his anxieties at that time.

“Iyong fear parang may COVID ka na just because of a little cough and a little anything.”

Given that experience, he said: “This is why I am very careful about the (return to) training of our athletes. We realize that life can be so short. I don’t believe in people who believe we should win medals at the expense of the life of our athletes (during this pandemic).”

Ramirez, however, also left it to the discretion of the NSAs and the POC if they wanted their Olympic qualifiers and aspirants to resume actual training even without the PSC’s approval but “they can go to the Olympics on their own. For us to allow training without these protocols is going to be a big problem.”

“We would like to remind them that we are a signatory to the JAO,” he said.

The PSC, Games and Amusements Board, Department of Health and the national Inter-Agency Task Force in charge of pandemic mitigation issued a Joint Administrative Order last July on health and safety rules that allowed pro sports and athletes to resume training and competitions.

It was also supposed to allow locally based national athletes who have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics and aspiring to qualify for the event to resume actual workouts, but which has been pending for some time now.

Ramirez said he would work on having athletes and coaches in the national pool get the vaccine for the virus once it is available in the country.

“My style is we have the money (for the vaccine) then we will give. If not, we will ask the national government. As the father of our athletes I am always concerned for their health,” he said. “If we can get the vaccine then there will be no problem for them to resume training.” 

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