The Diamonds are 48 hours away from taking a full squad to England for their only match preparation ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
As Covid takes a toll on sporting competitions around the country, all 15 players in Netball Australia’s squad for the quad series in London from January 16-20 recorded negative PCR tests before arriving in Sydney for a training camp.
The touring party of 26 is on track to fly out to London on Friday night.
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The Omicron variant has caused havoc around the country but the Diamonds are hoping their strict protocols will allow them to travel and play in a crucial pre-Games preparation.
Players and staff gave up precious time with family and friends over the Christmas-New Year period to ensure they remained virus free before heading to pre-departure camp in Sydney. A tight bubble at the team’s hotel should ensure all are able to travel and arrive in London safely.
Netball Australia’s executive general manager of performance, Stacey West, said the touring group had limited exposure opportunities to community transmission over Christmas-New Year to ensure they would be healthy to join camp and depart with the team on January 8.
“It was about more behavioural protocols, limiting exposure opportunities to community transmission,” West said. “So online shopping orders, no shopping centres, no cinemas … grabbing takeaway foods, takeaway coffees.
“I’m really proud of the group. What an incredible period of time to ask them to do that, when it’s festive season, so I’m so proud of their commitment and dedication to that request.
“They’ve all been outstanding in meeting those recommendations.”
Players have also been undertaking rapid antigen tests, with the frequency dependent on the Covid situation in their home states, while all had a PCR test before arriving in camp.
The entire group was tested again on Wednesday to meet UK entry requirements and the camp will be locked down ahead of departure, with no external visitors allowed, individual meals to be consumed in rooms, no team meetings occurring in rooms and initial isolation until all PCR results were returned.
Things become even stricter on arrival in London, with the Diamonds existing in a bubble within a bubble — staying in a hotel that will be occupied only by teams playing in the quad series but with each country’s path crossing only when they meet on court.
Practice matches scheduled against England A and an England development side have been abandoned, with the risk of transmission of the omicron variant of Covid deemed too high in a country recording almost 220,000 new cases a day.
“Ideally you’d love to have a good practice match prior to (the tournament) but in the current conditions it just can’t be supported, there’s just too much risk,” West said.
“We absolutely need to (get to the main event), it’s the only competition experience we’ll have prior to Commonwealth Games.
“So we do need to put all of our focus on getting a quality experience in that quad series.”
As a dry run for the Commonwealth Games to be held in Birmingham in July-August, the trip will also be invaluable, even if a member of the touring group tests positive.
“England Netball have done this for a couple of years now, they’ve run their Super League competition under these kind of protocols and done that very successfully, so we’re confident that we can do this in a really safe way,” West said.
“But we can’t make it zero risk, we can’t say to everyone: ‘You won’t catch Covid’, it is with as much reduction of risk as we possibly can but Omicron is just so transmissible.”
If an athlete was to test positive, they would be unable to play but the remainder of the team could continue in the competition.
“Whatever we learn here will put us in a really good position to manage the Super Netball season and then manage that transition into the Commonwealth Games — what are our testing protocols, what are our isolation protocols, how do we move safely into the UK, we will use all of this as information gathering to put us in a good position for five months’ time.”