NBA ‘very comfortable’ with restart venue despite coronavirus surge

The NBA confirmed its July 30 restart inside the league’s ‘bubble’ at Disney World in Orlando. (AFP)
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Updated 27 June 2020

NBA ‘very comfortable’ with restart venue despite coronavirus surge

  • ‘We’re not saying full steam ahead no matter what happens’
  • ‘We are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus. No options are risk-free right now’

NEW YORK: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday the league remains “very comfortable” with its decision to restart the season in Florida as the state battled a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases.
In a conference call with reporters held after the league confirmed details of its July 30 restart, Silver said the league would be ready to halt play if there was a significant outbreak among NBA players and personnel inside the league’s “bubble” at Disney World in Orlando.
But Silver added the league was confident that protocols put in place at the Disney World campus would be sufficient to shield NBA players and staff from the worst of the escalating COVID-19 crisis in surrounding areas.
Health officials in Florida on Friday announced 8,942 new cases of the disease, smashing the previous single-day record of 5,511 set earlier this week.
Cases in Orange County, where Orlando is located, have skyrocketed to more than 6,500 from 1,800 cases a month ago.
“My ultimate conclusion is that we can’t outrun the virus and this is what we’re going to be living with for the foreseeable future, which is why we designed the campus the way we did,” Silver said.
“It’s a closed network and while it’s not impermeable we are in essence protected from cases around us. For those reasons we’re still very comfortable being in Orlando.
“We’re never going to say there’s nothing that would cause us to change our plans, but one thing we’re learning about this virus is there’s so much that’s unpredictable.
“We’re not saying full steam ahead no matter what happens. We talk daily and we’re going to see how this continues to play out. But we feel very comfortable right now with where we are.”
Silver meanwhile said isolated coronavirus cases which emerged during the restarted season would see players placed in quarantine.
“If we had a single player test positive, frankly whether that player was an All-Star or a journeyman, that player would then go into quarantine and we would be tracking any player or personnel that player had been in contact with,” Silver said.
“We would then supplement the testing just to make sure that others haven’t been contaminated but we would continue. And that team would be down a man. We would treat that positive test as if it was an injury and we would not delay the continuation of the playoffs.”
However, Silver acknowledged a larger outbreak could lead to the season being halted.
“If we were to have a significant spread of coronavirus through our community, that might ultimately lead us to stop it,” he said.
“But we’re working closely with the players association, Disney and public health officials in Florida as to what that line should be and as yet it hasn’t been precisely defined.
“We want to get down on the ground and see how the testing and protocols are working and we’ll make decisions as we go.”
The coronavirus pandemic forced the NBA to shut down the campaign March 11 after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the deadly virus.
Silver said the decision to resume the season on a “closed campus” had not been the NBA’s preferred option.
“We looked at several different models all based on the data around society,” Silver said.
“It was not our first choice to play on a closed campus. The data led us to conclude we did need to play on a closed campus under the protocols we’re talking about — mandatory masking, no fans, contact tracing, aggressive testing etc.
“We are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus. No options are risk-free right now.”
Earlier Friday, the NBA revealed that 16 players had tested positive for COVID-19 out of 302 tests conducted on Tuesday.
None of the players or teams involved were revealed by the NBA in a brief statement.
The tests were required as part of the agreement for players who have committed to participating in the season restart in Florida.
Each player who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until he meets public health protocol for leaving isolation and is cleared by a physician.


Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

Updated 9 min 29 sec ago

Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

  • Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment

SPIELBERG, South Africa: Max Verstappen will seek a hat trick of home wins for Red Bull and an early lead in the drivers championship at this weekend’s delayed and somewhat surreal season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

For everyone involved, the race will be an unprecedented experience — the calendar is unknown beyond the first eight races in Europe in 10 weeks, all to be run behind closed doors and severe limitations introduced with a new paddock protocol forbidding meetings.

As racing returns, the COVID-19 virus remains in circulation, which requires all participants to be tested before travel to Austria on private chartered jets, ongoing tests, the separation of teams and car crews into “bubbles” and controlled hotels.

Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment, there will be no sponsors, no guests and only a limited number of accredited broadcast and written news media.

Journalists, limited to a dozen instead of 300 or more, have to pass a test within 72 hours in advance of arrival and will not be allowed to leave the media center.

All interviews and news conferences will take place by video.

The teams will be kept isolated, based in tents with awnings instead of their usual grand motorhomes — and there is expected to be a synchronized taking the knee by the drivers on the grid, to support Black Lives Matter, ahead of Sunday’s race.

Afterwards, there will be no podium ceremony.

When the race begins, it will end the longest gap between races in the sport since 1962, but with two successive races in Austria and then one in Hungary, the pressure will be immediate and intense.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “There’s been a long drought. We all do this because we love it. We’ve missed it, so we can’t wait to start.”

“It’s going to be exciting and intense. The races come thick and fast.”

Dutch driver Verstappen, who bullied his way past Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc to triumph in front of a mass of his “orange army” of fans last year, says he is unfazed by high expectations or the absence of spectators at the Red Bull Ring, a remote and compact circuit in the Styrian Alps.

“I am not thinking about a hat trick,” he said.

“The most important thing for me is to have a competitive car and to perform at my best.

“I never consider myself as a favorite because, actually, when you look at the track, it’s not even our best one, but last year it was very warm and we were good at keeping the engine cool.

“So I don’t expect an easy win. I think Mercedes will be very strong again and they are the ones to beat.”

Verstappen, who has kept a low profile during the lockdown, delivered three wins and eight podiums last year as Lewis Hamilton claimed his sixth title with Mercedes, who this year seek an unprecedented seventh constructors’ and drivers’ double in succession.

Verstappen and teammate Alex Albon will have an upgraded Honda engine package, developed since the coronavirus lockdown ended, to boost them at the contest in the Styrian Alps where the 800-meter altitude can affect engine performance.

Mercedes will also have an updated package while Ferrari, struggling to match them in pre-season testing, announced Tuesday that they are updating their cars for the third race in Hungary.

Hamilton this year bids for a record-equalling seventh drivers title as he campaigns passionately for greater diversity, and against racism, in the sport.

“We are preparing the best way we can for what is going to be the most difficult season that F1 and all of us have experienced,” he said in a video from the team, which — at his prompting — is running black livery this year to support equality and diversity.