Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the NRL’s pandemic and biosecurity expert told the Herald it was premature to make predictions about coronavirus trends — or when a return to the field could happen.
“The flattening of the curve is the impact of the travel bans enacted between March 5-10 on Iran, South Korea and Italy,” the professor said. “It takes two to four weeks to see the impact of interventions in epidemics. We won’t know until after the first week of April — until which time we will still be seeing the impact of travel bans — how it will progress from there.
“There is likely still community transmission we have not detected because of a restrictive testing policy. I think we can also see from the increasingly strict measures being implemented by the government that they, too, view the situation as serious based on the data and the expert advice they are getting and are placing protection of the community as the highest priority.”
The professor advised the NRL on March 23 that it should stop playing after a dramatic spike in positive coronavirus tests, making a startling prediction that a player could die if the competition continued.
“It’s the calm before the storm — but that storm is coming,” she told the Herald in an interview two days later. “What if one of your players gets sick and dies? Is it worth taking the risk of losing a player in the prime of their career?”
Her advice swung from playing in front of no crowds to a complete shutdown when the federal and state governments refused to close down schools.
She was also prompted by a series of events over that weekend, including the docking of the infamous Ruby Princess cruise ship at Circular Quay as well as tens of thousands of people flocking to eastern suburbs beaches and failing to obey social distancing.
Understandably, V’landys wants the competition to resume as soon as possible, fearing the catastrophic consequences for the game’s future.
The reason for his optimism has been the decline in news cases of the coronavirus in recent days.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said self-isolation and social distancing had slowed the rate of increase in infection from 25 to 30 per cent a day to 13 to 15 per cent a day.
That appeared to change on Wednesday morning with the rate of infection in NSW jumping from 114 new cases in one day to 150 the next, an increase of 30 per cent.
Last week, the NRL’s pandemic expert also argued young, fit footballers were at risk.
“That perception that it’s mild, it’s not a problem, is not correct. Young people have died,” she said. “Children have died in this epidemic. It’s not always a mild disease. A lot of people who are younger who are filling up the ICUs in the United States, even in NSW, a large number of the cases are in the 30s age group.
“If it’s spreading in young people, the players are getting together every week for the games, congregating in groups creates a risk of transmission because one of them has asymptomatic infection, they could spread it and then the families and other loved ones, staff, doctors, physios and other teammates could get it.”
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.