In the wake of the pre-season next month, the NRL’s biosecurity expert has said harsh restrictions may finally be put to rest.
The Sydney Morning Herald has reported on Tuesday that ‘bubble’ restrictions will be eased “almost fully” after case numbers in both Queensland and New South Wales are consistently low.
Associate Professor David Heslop, the NRL’s biosecurity expert, has said that there is likely to be far less protocols for players in the 2021 season, allowing teams to train in larger groups come next year.
Protocols put in place for the players and officials since May will be eased for those not participating in the upcoming State of Origin, excluding Melbourne Storm, who are confined to their hotel rooms for the next two weeks.
Assoc Prof Heslop, who sits on the NRL’s Project Apollo committee, has said that it is likely the bubbles will “dial back” and favoured the idea of team restrictions being “almost fully back to the general restrictions on the population”.
“The most important part of the Apollo protocols was actually keeping an eye on things and responding to that, rather than the restrictions on the day,” Assoc Prof Heslop told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“As long as we’ve got the ability to respond quickly … then it’s quite safe to dial back those restrictions to more closely to what the rest of the population is doing.
“I have to say my preference is if there is no good reason, from a biosecurity reason, to have the bubble in place, then it should not done or done very differently to reduce those restrictions.
“There really has to be a strong case for doing something different for the players that extends beyond simply feeling that you’re doing something.
“Myself and Dr [Cassy] Workman and the others at the NRL will always be monitoring things behind the scenes whilst COVID is sort of in play, but it doesn’t mean there needs to be very strict protocols [more restrictive] than everyone is following. It just means that we’re ready to go if we need to go.”
Following the election in Queensland on Saturday, restrictions are likely to be eased for the state and protocols put in place for the NRL teams and officials will almost certainly be toned down.
However, there will be major lifestyle changes for players, with the NRL putting a ban on going to restaurants/cafes and not allowing players golf time in the off-season.
Assoc Prof Heslop has said the “tens of thousands” tests done within the NRL circles have been more than effective for the game, even with the harsh restrictions imposed.
He also mentioned the fact that there had been multiple “close calls” like Bulldogs forward Aiden Tolman, who had to be put in isolation after a staff member at his child’s school tested positive to the virus back in June.
“There have been some close calls with teachers who have been part of the household of NRL players working at school where positive cases are and a whole lot of different variations to that,” he said.
“There were a couple of times where we were an hour away from cancelling games because of these things.”
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