Bahrain praised for helping athletes get back on track

International sporting federations and affiliates have praised the kingdom for helping athletes get back on track after the Covid-19 global pandemic thwarted their usual training and chances to compete at home and abroad.

Successful antigen testing and safety protocols have enabled them to feel confident and ready for action.

National Taskforce for Combating Covid-19 Monitoring Committee head Lieutenant Colonel Dr Manaf Al Qahtani shed light on Bahrain’s efforts to assist athletes during the Sports Cardiology Congress staged at the Gulf Hotel Bahrain Convention and Spa.

“Our antigen testing programme launched among athletes showcased tremendous results,” said the BDF Hospital’s senior infectious disease consultant during his talk entitled ‘The impact of Covid-19 on Sports and Exercise’.

“This couldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the multi-disciplinary teamwork of the Youth and Sports Affairs Ministry in co-ordination with the national task force. Together, we gathered in what we call the ‘War Room’, which is our central command, and put protocols on how to implement, monitor and track antigen tests.

“This Sports Congress was an excellent idea to showcase what we have done and learned.”

The Covid-19 rapid antigen tests, which were launched in August last year, provide fast and effective point of care testing with results being obtained in just 15 minutes to ensure advanced diagnostic healthcare and treatment to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

“We have carried out more than 11,000 tests on athletes of which there were 15 positive cases detected in a timely manner per month and we never had to remove these cases from the team,” added Dr Al Qahtani.

“Instead, we introduced the ‘bubble system’ and contact tracing so they were able to come back and do their training but in their own bubble zone.

“We never had any outbreaks or clusters thanks to the procedure. Since August 2020 until December this year, we have conducted more than two million antigen tests in the community.”

He added that some international federations have been delighted with Bahrain’s protocols and he believes that the kingdom’s antigen testing success can be used as a model internationally.

“Formula One, for example, were very pleased about our medical protocol and how we secured the safety of their athletes,” he said.

During the conference, he presented a Bahrain antigen-testing plan that can be used for sports teams and federations abroad.

He proposed smaller group training, conducting antigen testing for players and staff three times a week, quarantining close contacts (with negative PCRs) for 10 days or testing the close contacts with antigen tests daily for 10 days and with closed monitoring and restricted engagement. His model also suggests antigen testing for all athletes prior to events and continuing all public health measures.

“Of course we still keep in mind masking and social distancing, but this has allowed athletes to go back to their training,” said Dr Al Qahtani.

“I’m sure everyone knows the physical and mental impact the pandemic had on the community, including less physical activity, irregular sleep patterns and loss of physical fitness resulting in weight gain and poor dieting.

“Bahrain though never had a full lockdown. We still had the liberty of maintaining a semi-normal life with precautionary measures in place.”

Dr Al Qahtani warned though that the kingdom was not out of the woods yet.

“The pandemic is not over and God knows what will come next,” he said. “Covid-19 has taught us that we have to be prepared and that we need to improve our behaviour.

“There are so many lessons that we have learned from this pandemic but this is the time to focus on what we have changed in order for us to go back to our normal lives.

“Also, Covid-19 was never about locking down people; all it meant was that you have to comply with the necessary measures as well as vaccinations and social distancing until it is over.”

The conference, organised under the patronage of His Majesty King Hamad’s representative for humanitarian work and youth affairs Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, ended yesterday.

Health Minister Faeqa Al Saleh said the conference’s recommendations will be implemented in co-ordination with relevant authorities, including the National Committee for Combating Non-communicable Diseases and the media.




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