Stringent virus prevention measures in place as league treads ultra-carefully

The Chinese Basketball Association has made the health and safety of everyone involved in its league restart this weekend its No 1 priority.

With nationwide vigilance heightened this week by a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Beijing, the CBA has implemented a rigorous epidemic prevention mechanism-including repeated testing and strict quarantine and access control-as the action prepares to resume on Saturday.

After a five-month hiatus the 2019-20 season will tip off again on Saturday behind closed doors in Qingdao, Shandong province, and Dongguan, Guangdong province.

Players in all of the league’s 20 teams are required to take nucleic acid tests three times before their opening games.

Should anyone test positive before making the trip to either city, the whole team will be excluded from the restart to ensure the safety of the rest of the league. Even if teams show completely negative results, they will continue to be tested once every 10 days throughout the remainder of the season.

“Our priority is to guarantee the safety and health of everyone involved in the league restart,” league chief executive Wang Dawei told media during a video conference on Tuesday.

“The principle for all prevention and control measures is to create a safe environment where our players can be isolated within a safe loop and have no close contact with anyone out of it.”

Qingdao and Dongguan will each host 10 teams for Phase One of the restart. Each team will play about half of their remaining 16 regular-season games against group rivals behind closed doors, with access allowed only to essential operation personnel and a limited number of media staff.

After a three-day break, the two groups will move together to a third, as yet undecided, host city for Phase Two to finish the regular season with cross-group games by late July.

The top 12 teams will qualify for a truncated postseason, scheduled to start on July 30, with the first two playoff rounds contested as one-off games before the best-of-three semifinals and finals.

After being pushed back a few times by the country’s top sports governing body over infection concerns, the CBA is cautiously pushing ahead with its hard-earned restart as the first major professional league allowed to resume in China.

“History will mark the effort and sacrifice that all of us have done to make this happen as the first league in our country to do so,” CBA chairman Yao Ming said in an open letter to all teams and league staff published on Tuesday.

Yao, on behalf of the league management, expressed his gratitude to teams, referees and staff for their contribution, especially those who have voluntarily accepted pay cuts during the shutdown, to facilitate the return.

“The long-awaited moment to raise the curtain is now upon us. I hope everyone can stay focused on the competition while following all the regulations carefully to build a positive and healthy image for the league,” said the hoops legend.

All teams will have to stay quarantined in a designated hotel in each city and can only travel between the hotel, the sterilized competition arena and training facilities isolated from the public, according to league rules.

Players, coaches and referees will be granted “green” credentials as the only group to have access to the competition court and training venues, while the rest of the operational and media staff will be tagged as “blue” and “yellow” respectively to be restricted to specific arenas away from the green group.

When conducting interviews or attending media conferences, reporters will be physically distanced at least two meters away from players and coaches, Wang revealed.

All hotel staff and workers at competition and training venues will be tested multiple times in advance, and will be isolated at their respective accommodation facilities during the resumption.

Despite the strict measures, players can enjoy some leisure activities during their stay in hotels, such as playing video games in designated entertainment zones.

With most of the league’s ex-NBA players stuck overseas due to travel restriction, 12 teams have signed up to play with all-Chinese rosters for the resumption.

The other eight teams, who have foreign players at their disposal, will be limited in the amount of game time they can give to each import against all-domestic opponents, in an attempt to redress the balance. The usual rules will apply for games in which both teams have foreigners on the roster.

Videos showing fans cheering and audio recordings simulating crowd reactions will be played at the competition venues.

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