As the BCCI gets ready to host a second successive edition of the IPL during the Covid-19 pandemic, the board has informed all teams that they will not be vaccinated during the tournament. Anyone testing positive for the virus will need to isolate for a minimum of 10 days and clear the testing process before reintegrating into the bio-secure environment, which will be tightly monitored by 'bubble integrity managers' whose sole job will be to report any breach. The 14th edition of the IPL, which will be played at six venues in India behind closed doors to begin with, is scheduled between April 9 and May 30.
These guidelines have been listed in the standard operating procedures' document titled 'Health & Safety Protocols' distributed by the IPL to all the stakeholders including the eight teams on Saturday. The bio-secure environment will comprise 12 bubbles, including eight dedicated to the teams, two for the match officials and the match management team, and two for the broadcasting crew.
Seven-day mandatory quarantine to enter the bubble
As per the guidelines, anyone operating out of the bubble will need to first undergo a compulsory week-long quarantine inside the hotel room. There will be in-room testing done on days two, five and seven, and only once all three results are returned negative can the person come out of the quarantine. Unless they clear the testing process, team members are not allowed to interact in person.
Post-quarantine, every individual within the bubble "will be tested twice a week during the second week and thereafter every fifth day for the entire duration of IPL 2021 season," the guidelines stated.
No quarantine for players from India-England series
As per the protocol, players moving between the bubbles from the ongoing India-England series directly to the IPL will not need to undergo the week-long quarantine as well as the three initial tests, subject to them taking a charter flight or a direct team bus to the respective team hotels.
"Players coming directly from the bubble created for the India vs England series, may be permitted to join the franchise squad without serving the mandatory quarantine period, provided they satisfy the following criteria: After conclusion of the India vs England series, the players are moved directly to the franchise team hotel either in the team bus or on a chartered flight," the IPL said in the document.
"If the travel arrangements are to the satisfaction of the BCCI Chief Medical Officer, then such players will directly enter the franchise team bubble without the need to serve a quarantine period or undergo an RT-PCR test."
The same will be applicable to the overseas players coming from bilateral series' bubbles. In cases where the players coming out of bubbles do not conform to the IPL travelling norms, they will need to undergo the week-long quarantine and clear the three tests.
In the case of members joining "at a later date" after their teams have entered their respective bubbles, they "will have to serve their mandatory quarantine period" but "outside the bubble zone on a different floor/wing."
Ten-day isolation for testing positive
As per the medical protocol, anyone testing positive within the bubble would need to be isolated for a minimum of 10 days at a pre-designated facility inside the bubble.
"During the 10-days isolation, the individual will be tested on day nine and day 10. Two consecutive negative RT-PCR test results taken 24 hours apart, full resolution of symptoms, no fresh symptoms for more than 24 hours and no use of medications for more than 24 hours are mandatory for re-entry into the bio-secure environment. To account for any false positive tests due to historical infections, serology tests and repeat RT-PCR tests may be conducted."
In case the individual is found to be asymptomatic, "or has mild symptoms", the person would need to spend a minimum of 10 days in a "designated area outside" the bubble. Once the person clears the two tests on days nine and ten, he can re-enter the bubble. According to the guidelines, all those who have tested positive or are asymptomatic have to undergo a cardiac screening before resuming training.
The IPL has told the franchises that they will not be vaccinating team members because the Indian government has not yet given any special dispensation to athletes.
"In India, the first group to get vaccinated against COVID-19 included healthcare and frontline workers. The second group to receive COVID-19 vaccine will be persons over 60 years of age and persons between 45 and 59 years with comorbid conditions. The Government of India is yet to announce the schedule for vaccination of other groups of people including elite athletes."
The IPL has also clarified that even if a person has got a vaccine before entering the bubble, the individual would still need to adhere to the quarantine and testing procedures laid out for the tournament.
The bubble eye is watching you
Last year, Suresh Raina made a controversial exit from the Chennai Super Kings bubble in Dubai just before the start of the 2020 edition, which was held in the UAE. Although both the player and the Super Kings said it was owing to "personal reasons", unconfirmed reports suggested Raina had breached the bubble rules.
Taking that episode as a learning, the IPL has decided to appoint "up to four security staff" as the "designated bubble integrity managers". These managers would be part of each franchise bubble and travel with the team for the entire tournament. Their solitary job would be to
"report any bio-secure environment protocol breaches" to the BCCI's chief medical officer.