A Proposal for Reopening of Sports and Exercise Facilities in Zimbabwe with COVID19

Dr Austin Jeans,
Medical Director, Innovate High Performance Centre
Chair, TUE Subcommittee, Zimbabwe Olympic Committee Medical Commission
Member, TUE Subcommittee, Africa Zone VI Regional Antidoping Organisation
Chair, Medical Committee, Zimbabwe Rugby Union
Member, Developing Nations Working Group, World Rugby Medical Commission
Medical Officer, Zimbabwe Triathlon

Firstly an important disclaimer, the views and proposals expressed herein are my own professional opinion and not in any way representative of any sporting federation or organisation in which I am involved. I write this in the hope that my proposals may be of assistance to the responsible authorities in our country to get us ‘back on track’ from a sport and exercise training perspective whilst wrestling with the challenges of normalising life in Zimbabwe during the COVID19 outbreak. It is very important that the people of Zimbabwe resume their participation in sport and other physical fitness activities such as access to gym training as soon as possible. This is key for the preservation of physical, metabolic and mental health in our various communities. We must be cognisant though, of the Government’s concerns for the potential impact on COVID19 infection rates as people gather again to involve themselves in sport and physical activities or to spectate at sporting events. There are some key factors that can guide us to a cautious, practical but SMART strategy to reopen local sports and exercise facilities:

  1. Zimbabwe’s current COVID19 statistics (34 cases and 4 deaths over a period of 7 weeks) point to a very low-grade rate of infections and deaths related to the coronavirus; this should
    inspire confidence that the risks of an ‘overwhelming pandemic’ are not currently supported by the evidence.
  2. Furthermore, thanks to the efforts of Government and donors our hospitals are now better equipped and in a state of readiness for any COVID19 cases that do require hospitalisation.
  3. The few cases of COVID19 so far detected have been mainly confined to Harare and Bulawayo with very few in the other provinces of the country, again providing reassurance
    that the prevalence of the virus is low and associated infection risks are correspondingly low.
  4. Worldwide research shows that those developing severe COVID19 disease requiring hospitalisation constitute, in over 95% of cases, people with underlying medical conditions
    predominantly the elderly (over 80yrs of age); in other words the disease is not a significant risk to healthy people under 69yrs of age, virtually no risk at all to the young under 30yrs
    old and thereby not a significant risk overall to the majority of our fitness and sporting population.
  5. Zimbabweans are now very aware of the essential basics of COVID19 prevention – frequent hand washing / sanitisation, social distancing of 1-2m and face mask wearing in public.
  6. Research evidence shows the risk of COVID19 transmission from person to person in the outdoors is extremely small compared to indoor, poorly ventilated spaces where the risk is
    much, much higher (a factor of up to 19x difference in risk).
  7. Sunlight and associated healthy levels of Vitamin D are strongly linked to reduced virus survival and a markedly reduced risk of severe infection.

A SMART 10 POINT Plan to Reopen Sport & Exercise Facilities in Zimbabwe:

  1. Definition of Sport and Exercise facilities:
    a. Sports Clubs
    b. Gyms
    c. Schools
  2. Reopening time-frame – Allow facilities to reopen at the next reduction of lockdown
    (hopefully on 18 May 2020).
  3. Competitions – Sports facilities to permit sports training but no competitions for a period of
    two weeks from re-opening and thereafter subject to Governmental guidelines.
  4. Operating hours – It is proposed that no time limits on operating hours should be imposed
    on facilities as shorter hours will promote congestion which all venues will be trying to
  5. Rules of access – All facilities must be mandated to only allow access and attendance
    controlled by:
    a. Infra-red temperature measuring devices (person’s temp must not exceed 37.4 deg C)
    b. Hand washing / sanitiser at all entrances.
    c. Social distancing controls at all entrances.
    d. Face masks to be worn.
    e. A limit on numbers of people training at any time based on a minimum ratio of 3 square
    metres per person.
    f. Published guidelines that inform members / sports-persons not to attend if they have or
    have had flu-like symptoms in the previous 2 weeks.
    g. Regular periods of facility / training area closure during off-peak opening hours to
    facilitate cleaning and disinfection of facilities and equipment.
  6. Outdoor areas – where facilities have outdoor areas for exercise training, these are to be the
    preferred areas for activities, again with provision for social distancing per person.
  7. Indoor areas – if indoor areas are to be utilised for exercise training they must be well
    ventilated, allow for strict 3 sq m spacing between people and have frequent disinfection
  8. Ablution and showering areas – these facilities must be regularly cleaned and disinfected;
    people must maintain social distancing when using these areas.
  9. Spectators – during the first two weeks or until sport competitions resume, no spectators
    should be permitted at any sports facility; thereafter rules on limiting numbers of spectators
    will need to be determined by the relevant Government / Municipal / Sports Federation /
    School authorities so as to ensure adherence to prevailing COVID19 preventive restrictions
    and requirements.
  10. Catering / beverage outlets – such facilities existing at venues would operate subject to the
    relevant restrictions on their conditions of trading as set by Government / Local authorities.
This picture was provided by Piacquadio

In concluding this paper I hope that the thoughts behind the proposals resonate with the aspirations of our sports governing bodies, sports teams and athletes at all levels, as well as those involved in the fitness industry and their members and clients who are all, I am sure, ‘champing at the bit’ to get going again. As the saying goes “where there is a will there is a way” so I am confident that it can be done and I am hopeful that our Government can see the way forward for the resumption of sport and exercise training at all sports venues and gym training facilities in Zimbabwe as soon as possible.

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