On 18 March 2020, Cycling Australia announced that “an Adelaide-based Australian Cycling Team staff member returned a positive test to COVID-19 on Monday evening 16 March”. Today, High-Performance Director, Simon Jones held an online media call to answer questions about the case.
Introduction by Simon Jones
The media call was announced via email at 10.01am, 20 March and took place over an online video/audio conference at 11.30am. Before questions were issued, the director of the Australian Cycling Team’s high-performance unit, Simon Jones, made a brief statement.
“A bit of background. Clearly, from a big-picture perspective, we’re in a very serious global situation, a global pandemic. It’s pretty challenging for us in the team and, obviously, everybody else globally,” said Jones.
“I wanted to elaborate on the press release that we sent out earlier today, just with some facts – specifically to the timeline of the positive test.
“Just to be clear, we first reported symptoms – coronavirus-related symptoms – on the 13th of March. The staff member got tested on the 13th and we got a positive result back on the 16th.
“I just wanted to make it clear that that is the sort of timeline of those specific events.”
Question time: “We’ve got no concerns”
Network 10 in Adelaide asked for a little more information on who the member of the coaching staff was, noting that he couldn’t ask for full details because of confidentiality requirements. The reporter did, however, ask for a little more background on how they were linked to the Australian Cycling Team.
“It was just one of the support staff members that travelled with the team to Berlin,” explained Jones, “and they came back [to Australia] with the team.”
When asked if the person was based in Adelaide, Jones simply replied: “Yes, that’s right. Correct.”
Network 10 Adelaide continued the line of questioning: Were they the kind of staff member who required regular face-to-face time and if they needed to be part of the team in the future?
“Well, their role is actually quite distant from the team,” said Jones.
“They are one of the support staff members. They share an office. But, moving forward, we’re going to be changing the way that we deliver support just to be very cautious for the next couple of weeks, or the foreseeable future.
“But,” Jones added, “we’ve got no concerns that there has been any sort of cross-contamination because of the timeline.”
Australian Cycling Team issued ‘Health Kits’
Questions were issued in a subdued manner with considerable pauses coming after Jones answered the media.
RIDE Media noted that, when some flights recently returned to Australia with coronavirus positives, the airlines listed the rows of seats where those people were sitting.
And so, I asked Jones if he had any correspondence. I also asked if he could confirm if there were any additional measures taken during the travel time to try and limit the chance of infection to the riders representing Australia at the track worlds, which concluded on 1 March 2020.
“A couple of years ago,” said Jones, “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 in the team to improve, I guess, our illness burden.
“One of those strategies was to bring in an ‘infection prevention nurse’ from Adelaide Royal Hospital. That was some time ago, but I just want to convey that we’ve been pushing hygiene for quite some time.
“More recently,“ Jones continued, “we actually stepped up that support.
“Obviously, everyone needs reminders about health and hygiene and behaviour, so we have ‘health kits’ that we travel with which includes things like probiotics, obviously hand gels – of course – advice on how to open door handles, advice on how to avoid crowds.
“We had all that in place prior to the worlds,” he said
He also noted that all team members were reminded of the essentials prior to recent travel.
Jones then explained that, despite considerable systems being in place to avoid infection, the measures taken were not able to guarantee that everyone remained free of infection. He said that the “specific individual who, unfortunately, got tested positive was wearing masks on the way back from Berlin.”
That said, he remains optimistic that it is one-off positive and that the rest of the team is free of infection.
“I’m pretty confident that we were well ahead of any sort of government recommendations, in terms of our advice and our support and education for staff and athletes, specifically with hygiene.”
With regards to correspondence from the airlines, he added: “I don’t have that specific seat information but, obviously, 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 the timelines I gave was at a time from when we were on shutdown.
“Everybody was away from the Adelaide base, so we’re pretty confident that this staff member wasn’t in close proximity with anybody else at the time that they were infectious.”
– By Rob Arnold