BIO-BUBBLE- A HIT OR A MISS?
Could you imagine being surrounded by a huge ball-like membrane at all times while performing day-to-day chores? Such a concept is not something out of a sci-fi movie but a real thing in today’s world. It is commonly known as a bio-bubble.
A bio-bubble is a healthy and protected area that is separated from the outside world in order to reduce the possibility of contracting COVID-19. Currently, the prevalence of a bio-bubble is seen mainly in case of sports. Only approved athletes, support personnel, and match officials who have tested negative for COVID-19 are allowed to access the protected area.
A bubble may be established for a single sports season, tournament, or for an ongoing series of events, allowing them to still be held and made available to broadcast audiences.
So, how do you build a bio-secure environment?
The bio-secure setting may constitute multiple sites comprising a secure perimeter and may include parts of a hotel or a stadium where the players & officials are only permitted to enter to avoid physical contact with the outside world. It should be noted that players, match officials, board members, hotel staff, security personnel, and medical teams all have their own areas. They must all stay in their designated areas till they have completed play. In case of breach, the individual will be isolated and must test negative for Covid infection twice before re-entering the bubble.
As they are usually held without public spectators, events within a bubble are typically produced considering television audiences and broadcasters can employ production techniques, which is otherwise difficult in a typical venue with fans. The venue may be customised with video boards and artificial crowd noise to replicate a real stadium.
BIO BUBBLE SUCCESSES
Taiwan's Super Basketball League was the first basketball league in the world to move competition into a bio-bubble in order to complete the season. The National Basketball Association in USA created a similar bubble to complete the season in 2019 – 20. The UFC completed its mixed martial combat sports in a bio-bubble in Abu Dhabi in 2020 & 2021.
The first cricket bio-bubble in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 was created in July 2020 during the England vs West Indies Test series. However, there was a breach in this bubble when England’s star player, Jofra Archer, decided to visit his home leaving the bubble. The Authorities took quick action and Archer was fined and dropped from the second Test to self-isolate before entering the bubble again.
The 2020 IPL in UAE from Sept 19 to Nov 10, 2020, hosted in the cities of Dubai, Sharjah & Abu Dhabi was a huge success and there was no breach in this tournament.
The bio-bubble for both the above cricket tournaments were maintained by Restrata, a company well versed in monitoring devices and bio-secure solutions.
Every six days, the broadcasting crew, media, players, and support staff had to get tested. Nobody was allowed to visit the stadium and those who did had to isolate for five days before passing two Covid-19 tests before rejoining the team.
The only reason the West Indies vs England game was a success was due to the extreme precautions taken. If the number of people in an area can be minimised, the chances of the contamination, are less. The England cricket board had also added various protocols to increase safety – anyone who joined the bubble was screened and there was extensive testing. In addition, isolation rooms were constructed in the venue in case anyone tested positive inside the bubble.
Taking a cue from Cricket major sports like Football (MLS in USA & Chinese Super League in 2020), Ice Hockey (World Junior Ice Hockey 2021 in Rogers Place, Canada) & Pro Wrestling in Florida, USA, were all held within a bio-bubble successfully.
Is bio-bubble always a success?
Four months after the IPL 2020 in UAE, IPL 2021 was hosted in India across six cities -. Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata. The season was set to begin on April 9 and end on May 30, 2021.
Though the tournament was to be held behind closed doors, at least in the early stages, it involved a lot of intercity travelling.
Unfortunately, the 14th Indian Premier League had to be suspended midway after multiple players from different franchises tested positive for COVID-19, dealing a huge blow to Indian cricket. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which took pride in its good organisation in the UAE, were unable to repeat the feat this year.
When contrasted to the conditions in India, managing the bio-bubble was easier in the UAE. In the previous IPL, only three venues were used: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah. However, six cities were named as hosting cities for this season. Though teams in the UAE were able to travel by road to all three venues, this was not possible in India.
In the IPL 2021, teams travelled by air, making the bio-bubble more fragile than last year. Despite the fact that the teams flew charter, the players also had to go through security checks at the airports. Furthermore, there was a significant disparity in the number of prevailing cases between the three UAE cities and the six Indian cities. Before the competition began, majority of the Indian cities were deemed hotspots, and even a small break in the bio-bubble may have allowed the deadly virus to seep in, which eventually happened.
However, the pandemic caught an 'atmanirbhar' BCCI off guard, which wanted to show the world that India was capable of successfully hosting the T20 Cricket World Cup in October-November 2021.
The bubble breach appears to be caused by a combination of factors like air travel between cities, outside catering of food inside team hotels, and faulty virus warning systems. In some instances, insufficient RTPCR Testing kits available at due to laxity of the entrusted agencies. Thus, even after best attempts, the bio-bubble failed and the tournament had to be postponed after breach in the bubble.
Sometimes fatigue caught up with the players due to long stay in a bio-bubble and some decided to leave this claustrophobic environment for a normal life.
Bottom line is that with proper monitoring and strict rules, regular testing and proper isolation, a bio-bubble is a hit; but with lenient rules and relaxed norms, it’s a miss, just like other proposed experiments. Nevertheless, it is evident that it has been more successful than not and stands to be a possible solution in times of a pandemic for the sports fraternity.
(Written by Siddhipriya Chatterjee)