THE COLUMN: China confines one city to a month and a half from Beijing 2022 as Covid outbreaks emerge in sports leagues around the world

With the Omicron variant, sports are forced to reactivate health protocols and formulas in the NBA, NHL, NFL, and European soccer.

Medical workers in protective suits work inside a makeshift nucleic acid testing laboratory set up at a convention centre following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Xian, Shaanxi province, China December 22, 2021. Picture taken December 22, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT.
Medical workers in protective suits work inside a makeshift nucleic acid testing laboratory set up at a convention centre following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Xian, Shaanxi province, China December 22, 2021. Picture taken December 22, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT.

With the new Omicron variant already popping up everywhere, and giving the idea that this coronavirus pandemic seems to have no end, sports is once again starring in the same movie as almost two years ago.

But there is a difference: the health protocols applied throughout this time in professional, amateur and Olympic sporting competitions, and the development of vaccination, are the main weapon to avoid being defeated by the virus.

This valuable experience has not prevented the winter 2021/2022 from starting with new outbreaks of contagions that have been felt in many sports with more intensity compared to the beginning of the pandemic.

A month and a half before the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China has ordered a new confinement of a large city: Xian, capital of Shaanxi province, with 13 million inhabitants. There, 143 cases have been detected since December 9.

The Chinese have quickly implemented severe restrictions to prevent panic. One of them for example: only one person per family will be allowed to go out every two days to buy food and other basic necessities.

From the early hours of Wednesday, none of the 13 million inhabitants can leave the city unless they have an urgent reason. And if they are allowed to do so, it will be only after they meet various health requirements and anti-virus tests. Xian’s borders are, of course, closed.

Although the number of cases is very small compared to the total population, the authorities have implemented radical measures to prevent the outbreak from spreading to other regions, including Beijing, and could trigger a campaign of uncertainty among the Olympic protagonists who are already preparing to pack their bags.

No major city had been subjected to massive restrictions since Wuhan in early 2020, where the world’s first cases of covid were reported. Months later, the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo were postponed for a year.

To avoid contagion across borders, the Chinese went so far as to cancel the trip of their famous Olympic champion weightlifters and world record holders to the World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, at the beginning of December.

The appearance of the Omicron variant has raised worldwide concern, but the International Olympic Committee has already confirmed that the Beijing Games will not be threatened by any covid-19-related circumstances.

One of the most talked-about infections in recent days was that of tennis player Rafael Nadal, who unintentionally worried the Spanish Royal Family. And the fact is that last Saturday the athlete shared a meal with the King Emeritus Juan Carlos in Abu Dhabi, where he was playing a tournament.

Upon returning to Spain the next day, Nadal tested positive for covid. On Saturday, before his match with Denis Shapovalov, he tested negative. After playing, Nadal, along with his coach Carlos Moya - also positive - had lunch with the former Spanish head of state and later travelled from Abu Dhabi to Kuwait for an event to promote his tennis academy in Mallorca.

King Juan Carlos, 83, who has been in the United Arab Emirates for seven months while his situation with the Spanish tax authorities is being clarified, underwent a PCR test and tested negative.

Tennis - Mubadala World Tennis Championship - International Tennis Centre, Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - December 18, 2021 Canada's Denis Shapovalov celebrates with Spain's Rafael Nadal after he wins their 3rd place play-off match REUTERS/Christopher Pike
Tennis - Mubadala World Tennis Championship - International Tennis Centre, Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - December 18, 2021 Canada's Denis Shapovalov celebrates with Spain's Rafael Nadal after he wins their 3rd place play-off match REUTERS/Christopher Pike

Due to the increase of positive cases in Puerto Rico, the 55th edition of the Olympic Awards, which recognizes the work of Puerto Rican athletes and sports personalities, was postponed.

Because of the rate of positive covid-19 tests on the island, which reached a dramatic jump in just two weeks, the “Miss World” beauty contest was also cancelled in San Juan due to the infection of several contestants.

The latest wave of outbreaks has caused the NFL (The National Football League), NBA (The National Basketball Association), NHL (The National Hockey League), college basketball and other leagues in the United States to postpone games in recent days.

The United States recorded a seven-day average coronavirus case count of 168,981 on Wednesday, amid a nationwide surge driven in part by the Omicron variant, which is significantly more contagious than previous versions of the coronavirus.

This is the second largest wave of the pandemic so far. On January 12, 2021, the United States marked a record seven-day average of 242,209 cases.

In professional sports the unrest returned with a wave of game suspensions.

The regular season schedule has been substantially disrupted due to a growing number of positives among players. The NHL and the National Hockey League Players Association announced that the regular season would continue after Dec. 27, but cross-border games between the United States and Canada would be rescheduled.

The Feb. 6-22 break, originally scheduled for Olympic participation, will now be used for the postponed games.

The NFL said that starting Sunday, it would only test unvaccinated and symptomatic players. Vaccinated players would no longer be tested weekly.

Last season, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and before vaccines were available, the NFL managed to complete its entire schedule, playoffs and Super Bowl on time. However, that required rescheduling 15 games due to outbreaks of covid in several teams.

More than 90 players are currently on the NBA’s covid health and safety protocols, and the increase in cases has led to the postponement of several games this month.

In 2020, the NBA managed to end its season by convening 22 teams at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to play the remainder of the regular season and playoffs in strict isolation. The “bubble,” as it became known, was a success without a single player testing positive for the virus.

Now the string of covid casualties threatens to paralyze the competition. Nine games have had to be postponed in recent days. The NBA and the players’ union have agreed on new rules for teams to deal with the situation.

The rules, for the time being in effect until January 19, have once again opened the door, albeit on ten-day contracts, to discarded NBA veterans. The latest case is that of Joe Johnson, 40, signed with the Celtics.

Even Kyrie Irving, out for the season because he refuses to comply with New York City’s vaccine mandate, was called up by the Brooklyn Nets. But the next day he lost it...to covid.

Demonstrators shout slogans outside the Barclays Center, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic following Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving refusal of vaccination for the COVID-19, in New York, U.S., October 24, 2021, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. TWITTER/@justericthomas/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
Demonstrators shout slogans outside the Barclays Center, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic following Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving refusal of vaccination for the COVID-19, in New York, U.S., October 24, 2021, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. TWITTER/@justericthomas/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.


Dec 1, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (center, black hat) watches action during the second half of the game between the Seton Hall Pirates and the Wagner Seahawks at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (center, black hat) watches action during the second half of the game between the Seton Hall Pirates and the Wagner Seahawks at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The disease is once again hitting European sport hard, especially its renowned soccer leagues with outbreaks, suspended games and empty stadiums.

Spain’s La Liga on Wednesday closed the 2021 calendar for the Christmas holidays with leaders Real Madrid with 10 players reported positive for covid including Modric, Marcelo and Bale. But it is not the only club, nor is it just soccer.

Real Madrid basketball is complicated by a wave of contagions to which must be added the injured, a situation that compromises its performance in the Euroleague.

The new anti-Covid protocol of the Spanish soccer league tightens measures and regulations to try to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and, among other obligations, teams will have to pass more antigen or PCR tests after Christmas and national team matches, as well as during transfers.

In Germany, the Bundesliga will again have empty stadiums after the winter break when the tournament restarts on January 7.

Despite the increase in the number of cases in the United Kingdom, the Premier League adopted the controversial resolution not to alter the matches scheduled for the last week of December and the beginning of January 2022 on its traditional British Boxing Day holiday.

The English League just a few days ago reported more than 40 cases, the highest number since the pandemic began. A significant percentage of its players have shown no intention of being vaccinated. Numerous footballers and coaches are demanding that they be taken into account when making decisions about this risk.

Just when the pandemic was thought to be behind us, the Omicron variant has once again put the world on edge and forced sports to readjust as the main “players”, the scientists, are determined to defeat this thousand-headed bug sooner rather than later.

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