Following the announcement on Wednesday that a staff member who accompanied the Australian Cycling Team to the recent UCI Track World Championships in Berlin, Germany, had tested positive for the coronavirus, performance director Simon Jones talked to the media on Friday about the hygiene measures put in place on the team both before and after that news.
“We were first aware of the [staff member’s] coronavirus symptoms on March 13,” Jones told media outlets, including Cyclingnews, on a conference call. “The staff member got tested on March 13, and we got a positive result back on March 16.
“It was one of our support staff members that travelled with the team to Berlin, and came back with the team to Australia as well [at the start of the month], and who’s based in Adelaide.”
Jones explained that the person’s role is actually quite “distant” in terms of regular contact with the athletes.
“They’re one of the support staff members who share our office, and going forward we’re going to be changing the way that we deliver support, just to be very cautious for the next couple of weeks and the foreseeable future,” Jones said. “But we’ve got no concerns that there’s been any cross-contamination, because of the timeline.”
Following the team’s return to Australia after the track championships, there was what the federation described as a pre-planned staff and athlete break from the Adelaide training environment for the period of March 7-15.
“We’ve done our own due diligence in terms of who may have been in contact, but I just wanted to be really, really clear that, in terms of the timelines I gave, we’re pretty sure that this staff member wasn’t in close proximity to anybody else at the time that they were infectious,” explained Jones.
As a precaution, six team members – three athletes and three more members of staff – have also been tested for the coronavirus, with five of them having returned negative tests, and the sixth and last result expected across the weekend, with the result to be conveyed as soon as it’s known.
In terms of the track athletes’ continued training sessions in preparation for this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, which have not yet been postponed or cancelled, Jones gave further details about the team’s approach.
“We’ve taken several measures to be cautious,” he said. “We’ve restricted access to just the podium group, which is the able-bodied group and the para-athletes – that’s 19-20 athletes in total. And we’re going to ensure that just the essential staff, which will be coaches, plus very close support, will be at the [Adelaide Superdrome] venue.
“A lot of other staff will be working at home, and obviously we’ll be operating on a more remote basis. We’ll also be reducing access to closed spaces, which is part of the Australian government recommendations for social distancing, which will include the athlete lounges and kitchen area, as well as ensuring that, in the offices, we’re all at least two metres apart from each other.
“So, once we’re allowed back in the building, we’ll make sure there’s adequate spacing,” said Jones. “We’ll be changing the layout of the gym-workout areas, just to be really cautious and to try to minimise the risk of close proximity, and those are just a few of the measures we’re going to take.
“We’re going to keep monitoring the situation. Extreme situations require extreme solutions, so we’re going to be quite cautious and monitor it on a daily basis.”
Jones also explained that a number of hygiene measures had already been put in place well before the coronavirus crisis.
“A couple of years ago, at least, we started a specific athlete-health push to reduce general upper-respiratory-tract infections, which are quite common in athletes, so we’ve had a strategy in place on the team to improve our illness burden, and one of those strategies was to bring in an infection-prevention nurse from the Royal Adelaide Hospital,” he said.
“That was some time ago, but I want to convey that we’ve been pushing hygiene for quite some time, and more recently we’ve actually stepped up that support. Obviously, everyone needs reminders about health and hygiene, and behaviours.
“We had all that in place prior to the Worlds, and all team members, including the specific individual who tested positive, were wearing masks on the way back from Berlin, so I’m pretty confident that we were well ahead of any government recommendations in terms of our advice, support and education for the staff and athletes, specifically with hygiene,” said Jones.
Planning for the best, preparing for the worst
As to whether the Olympics will go ahead as planned this summer – and so far the Japanese government is still hoping that they will – Jones said that they had to be ready for all scenarios.
“We’re planning for the best, but we’re also preparing for the worst, and I think that’s the best response I can give,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of scenario planning and contingency planning, and the decision is obviously beyond our control as to whether the Olympics are on or off.
“Japan is currently experiencing fewer cases than other countries, so that may be something to do with it, but I’d rather not comment on those decisions that I can’t control. But we are planning that the Olympics are going to be on, but also preparing for the worst as well,” he said.
“I think everybody responds differently in these situations,” Jones said, when asked about the athletes’ state of mind regarding the uncertainty of the current climate. “But, on the whole, everyone’s doing really, really well considering that it is a challenging situation, and there are no specific individual issues that we’re concerned about at this moment.”