Several Thai League football matches have been postponed indefinitely after an Uzbekistan football player at Buriram United tested positive for the coronavirus despite being released after fulfilling the 14-day state quarantine.
A virologist expert says it is highly possible the infection is from his country of origin.
The Department of Medical Sciences (DMS) conducted 1,115 tests on Tuesday on all players, staff, officials and referees in Thai League 1 and League 2 and the Public Health Ministry announced yesterday the 29-year-old midfielder was the only person to test positive for the disease.
The news has forced league officials to postpone three matches pending new tests on Thunder Castle players, plus those in other clubs who recently played friendlies against Buriram.
The Department of Disease Control (DDC) says the infected player Akbar Ismatullaev arrived in Thailand on 11th August, produced a health certificate showing he did not have COVID-19 and was placed in 14-day quarantine at Anantara Riverside Hotel in Bangkok. He left on 27th August and was driven to a team camp in Buri Ram province with no stops on the way.
He trained with his teammates from 28th August – 9th September and also attended a game between Ratchaburi Mitr Phol and Khon Kaen United at Chang Arena in Buri Ram.
He and his team flew with Thai AirAsia to Samut Prakan on Thursday and because the government’s COVID-19 health measures require all players to be tested before every game the player was retested. The new swab found on Thursday that he was infected with the virus.
Authorities are now investigating where and when he contracted the virus.
Yong Poovorawan, head of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at the Faculty of Medicine of Chulalongkorn University, said it was highly likely the virus was imported from Uzbekistan, even though he returned a negative test before his departure.
The player could have been asymptomatic for more than 14 days, the quarantine period required by Thailand, Dr Poovorawan said. He did not, however, rule out the possibility of local transmission, saying if that was the case, health officials would find the source.
“In my opinion, the player could have been infected in the country he left,” Dr Poovorawan said.
DDC chief Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai said the man had now been hospitalised and at least 22 other players and 21 staff were currently in quarantine, despite returning negative tests.
He said the highest risk areas were the training centres and football pitches used by those involved, which had already been closed for decontamination.
“If anyone is connected with this case, they can contact a hospital and take a virus test,” he said.
“But anyway, we have under supervision all those deemed to be either high risk or low risk and they are now in quarantine.”
He issued a warning that communities could have infectious people in them, so people should not lower their guard.
Matches in both Thai League 1 and League 2 will resume today after being suspended since March due to the pandemic.
However, the Uzbek player’s positive test has forced the postponement of three fixtures today, said Korrawee Prisananantakul, deputy chairman of the Thai League organising committee.
They are tomorrow’s Thai League 1 game between Buriram United and BG Pathum, today’s Ratchaburi Mitr Phol-Bangkok United game and today’s League 2 fixture between Khon Kaen United and Siam Navy.
Ratchaburi and Khon Kaen both played friendly matches with Buriram United ahead of the season resumption.
Meanwhile, Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the DMS, said yesterday the Bangkok DJ who recently tested positive for COVID-19 was infected with the G strain of the virus, the same one which is now spreading worldwide.
The DDC has also been trying to track down anyone who had close contact with three men who tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival in Japan from Thailand: a 64-year-old Japanese man, a 21-year-old Thai male student and a 44-year-old Thai man.