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COVID19: Cyprus football scores own goal

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Cyprus Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou took a shot at two football clubs which have turned into hotspots for the coronavirus with 43 cases, blaming them for ignoring COVID protocols.

After clusters of coronavirus cases formed among players and staff, including their families at first division clubs Ethnikos Achnas (21) and Nea Salamina (23), Ioannou held a crisis meeting with the Cyprus Football Association (CFA).

With final decisions to be announced on Friday, the two sides discussed the possibility of implementing some changes to the health protocols for football games introduced in the light of the outbreak.

However, the Health Minister found the current protocols were sufficient, but the clubs were not following them.

“It is more than evident that protocols were not implemented. When 19 players in a club get infected by just one person, then it is apparent that protocols in place are not to blame.

It is not a matter of protocols becoming tougher. The problem is that protocols are not being implemented, to begin with,” said Ioannou.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, CFA press officer Constantinos Shiamboullis said that the Association will be meeting on Friday with the Health Ministry’s epidemiological team regarding any changes to the protocol.

He confirmed that no decision was taken during Thursday’s meeting, but extra measures will be announced on Friday.

“The Health Ministry agreed that the health protocol in place for football is still valid. The problem is not the protocol itself, but for it to work, it needs to be followed to the letter as the latest cases have proven,” said Shiamboullis.

Meanwhile, the games between Nea Salamina and Ermis and Ethnikos Achnas v Anorthosis, scheduled to take place on September 26 and 27 respectively, have been postponed for a later date.

Ethnikos Achnas said 18 players and staff members, along with an additional three people related to one of the players tested positive, thus bringing the cluster to 21 infections.

The cluster at Nea Salamina counts 23 people, including 20 players and staff and three contacts of a player.

The clusters pushed COVID-19 cases in Cyprus skywards after infections had started to flatten out.

Asked by the Cyprus Footballers Association asked an expert advising the government on the outbreak, to comment on how the two teams were so badly impacted by the virus, who said that protocols had been violated by the teams.

Government advisor, virologist Dr Peter Karayiannis said the conditions for the virus to spread rapidly within the two football teams were “perfect”.

“From what I have learned, protocols were violated at Nea Salamina as players came into contact with the foreign player who had the virus when he arrived just a few days earlier,” said Karayiannis.

He noted that conditions in some changing rooms are in violation of protocols after players union PASP pointed out that teams are using changing rooms that are no bigger than 12 square metres.

“You can’t have a whole team confined in such small rooms. In cases of small changing rooms, players should enter in small groups.”

Karayiannis added: “It is outrageous that some teams are not sticking to protocols. If these violations continue then only God knows where we will end up.

Inappropriate use of changing rooms can facilitate the transmission of the virus from just one person to another 15-20 others.

There is a huge risk that players will pass it on to their families forming very large transmission chains.”