Updated 31 March 2020
COVID-19 is increasingly having a significant impact on the global community and is a rapidly evolving issue. Government organisations, public health units and the WHO continue to provide accurate, timely and detailed updates relevant to the whole community.
This resource is intended to provide an overview of the currently available information highlighting the unique needs and challenges for elite Australian sport particularly in their preparation for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Australia’s high performance sport bodies should reschedule their current arrangements in anticipation for a Tokyo Games in the northern summer of 2021. The AOC, AIS and Paralympics Australia agree that this is consistent with the key principals of putting the health of athletes first and acting in the best interests of sport and the Australian community.
From Sunday 22nd of March most state and territory governments are advising against non-essential interstate travel, this includes all forms of travel by car, air or rail. There is no sport or training related reason why individuals or teams should put themselves or the community at further risk by travelling interstate.
Recognising the increased risk currently in Australia, and the necessity to observe social distancing and limitations on public movement the AIS, AOC, and Paralympics Australia recommend the closure of all non-essential services within the NIN from Tuesday 24 March. Essential services include acute medical care only and provision of health services by telehealth where possible. Athletes should return to their home environment. Operational staff should coordinate programs for those returning home. Roles considered non-essential should aim to work from home where this is feasible.
About COVID-19 and sport
Evidence-based information on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and high performance sport.
COVID-19 is the name of the disease that is caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). This is a new virus recently identified in Wuhan, China. Currently there are seven types of Coronavirus that are known to infect humans, four of those commonly circulate in the community and generally result in minor illness such as the common cold. The remaining two are associated with significant illness being Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Virus (SARS).
COVID-19 results in a spectrum of illness ranging from possible asymptomatic carriage, common cold to severe cases requiring hospital admission. In a small minority of cases, COVID-19 can be fatal.
The early epidemiological characteristics published should be interpreted with caution. Patients with milder disease would be less likely to seek medical attention and therefore may not be included in the statistics.
Epidemiological reports from patients who received medical attention in China suggest the following breakdown of COVID-19 cases:
- 1% have no symptoms
- 81% have mild symptoms like the common cold
- 14% have severe symptoms that cause them to miss work and/or attend hospital
- 5% have severe symptoms, often requiring ICU admission (including a fatality rate of about 2.3%)
(Wu & McGoogan, 2020).
There were no reports of deaths in people aged nine years or younger and of the 1716 health care workers diagnosed who may be presumed to be younger with less co-morbidities there were five deaths reported giving a fatality rate 0.003%, which may be more representative to athletes and coaches (Wu & McGoogan, 2020).
The most common symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. It can be difficult to tell the difference between COVID-19 and other common respiratory illness particularly in the early stages of illness. Individuals should consult with their doctor by calling ahead. The doctor can take a thorough history, including travel history, perform a physical exam and make a recommendation regarding testing for COVID-19.
The estimated incubation period is between 1-14 days but is about five days on average. The incubation period is the time from when exposure to the virus occurs until symptoms start. Symptoms can persist for longer than three weeks, although the duration of illness will be highly variable.
The literature has demonstrated older and immune compromised persons are more likely to have worse outcomes from the virus, compared to fit young healthy people. However, it has been observed that even mild cases that can be managed as an outpatient have resulted in viral pneumonia observed on lung imaging. What this means for athletes is that for those athletes who contract the virus the risk of becoming critically unwell is low, however even the course of a mild infection is likely have a significant impact on your ability to train for weeks to months, re-enforcing the need to be diligent with infection prevention measures.
Analysis of the number of cases from the Diamond Princess suggests that COVID-19 is more contagious than seasonal influenza.
This can change based on the circumstances the outbreak is occurring in and it is expected this will be refined over time as more is known.
At this point it is expected that for every case of diagnosed COVID-19, a further 2 to 3 cases will be diagnosed.
The virus is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets. There is ongoing research to determine if there are other possible modes of transmission such as faecal or through the air.
Infected individuals who are currently unwell are far more likely to be contagious than infectious individuals who have no symptoms. Australians who have travelled overseas in the last 14 days, or have come into contact with a known case of COVID-19 are considered to be at risk.
Hand hygiene remains the single best action individuals can take to reduce their risk of acquiring any respiratory or gastrointestinal tract infection. While COVID-19 is a global concern the number of cases of influenza globally far outweighs the number of COVID-19 as reported on the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS). Annual influenza vaccination remains an important infection prevention measure.
You should be vigilant with frequent hand washing using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Make sure you adhere to 'illness etiquette'. If you are coughing and sneezing, do so away from people into a tissue, your elbow or hands. If you cough or sneeze into your hands, make sure you wash your hands afterwards. Seek medical review early if you are feeling unwell.
Research in respiratory infections in travelling sporting teams suggests that the most likely pattern of spread occurs from within a team, rather than from external sources. When an unwell team member joins the team, due to the regular close physical contact between team members the infections can spread readily within a team (Valtonen et al., 2019).
Unwell members of the team should not be permitted to attend training or attend work.
Social distancing is an effective measure that can contribute to the reduction of transmission of COVID-19 in the community. The current federal government recommendations for social distancing include;
- When going into public spaces people should only gather in groups of two, or be with members of their own household
- If exercising outdoors in groups of two, or in family/household groups, maintain at least 2 m between exercising individuals at all times
- Avoid any public gathering spaces such as public playgrounds, outdoor gyms and skate parks.
- Staying at home and only leaving home for the following reasons
- shopping for what you need, food and other essential supplies that enable you to remain at home and to do that shopping as infrequently as possible
- for medical care or compassionate needs
- to exercise in compliance with the public gathering rules
- for work and education if you cannot work or learn remotely
- When outside your home keeping a distance of 1.5 m between yourself and other people.
Aspects of these recommendations may be enforceable by law depending on the state or territory you are currently in.
Currently there is no specific treatment for COVID-19. The aims of medical management are to identify other treatable causes of illness (such as influenza), manage any complications from COVID-19 and provide advice on how to limit the transmission from known cases.
Significant resources are being allocated to the development of a vaccine and to assess the efficacy/safety of currently available antiviral medications. The results of the first wave of randomised control trials are being conducted in China and results will be due to be released in mid-2020. A vaccine will likely take longer to go through clinical trials.
Exercise and maintaining your level of fitness remains an important part of physical and mental health for everyone.
For those who are well, they should continue to train, within the current restrictions on public gatherings. At this point athletes should not attend team training, public or outdoor gyms, playgrounds or skate parks.
Athletes should discuss with their national sporting organisations and coaching staff methods for continuing to exercise and maintain their fitness through this period.
Currently there is not enough available information to provide strong, specific advice regarding any additional risks posed by COVID-19 in pregnancy. The decision for women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant to travel with teams to areas that have a higher risk profile is best made on an individual basis after a discussion with a medical practitioner.
NSO and coaching staff should support any decision a woman makes regarding their decision to travel or attend work in these circumstances. NSOs should offer measures to allow women to continue to contribute remotely should this be practical.
The CDC provides a summary of what is currently known regarding additional risks in pregnancy.
Current restrictions in the movement and gathering of people is changing rapidly and varies by State and Territory. Athletes and sporting organisations need to observe both the Federal restrictions and State or Territory government restrictions that are currently in place with individual and public health taking priority over elite sport needs.
All elite athletes should be working with their national sporting organisations and coaches to adapt their training schedule according to the current social distancing advice, how the athlete is coping with the changes and what resources are available to them in their home to train. The Federal government has indicated that the current situation is likely to be in place until at least September 2020.
In planning for the post COVID-19 pandemic period, sports will need to have built in infection control measures to their daily approach. Teams travelling or living together represent a risk similar to that described for boarding schools and community sport. Each sport should “consider the risks versus the benefits” of staying in a team training environment, and consider the resources available to follow social isolation procedures while that environment. For example;
Does each individual have their own bedroom?
Does each individual have their own bathroom?
Is there capacity to for individuals to prepare and consume meals away from a dining hall?
What will the team do in the event of the first and subsequently identified cases of COVID-19?
- In a team environment there will be increased proximity and duration of physical contact that can facilitate transmission of respiratory and gastrointestinal pathogens. Research in respiratory infections in travelling sporting teams suggests that the most likely pattern of spread occurs from within a team, rather than from external sources. When an unwell team member joins the team, due to the regular close physical contact between team members the infections can spread readily within a team (Valtonen et al., 2019).
- Larger group size when travelling to areas of elevated risk may increase the potential exposure to the group as a whole.
- Those providing manual therapy services (physiotherapists, soft tissue therapists) are generally some of the busiest members in team environments with regular physical contact. If manual therapies are deemed an absolute necessity, additional time per patient should be allocated to complete cleaning with appropriate surface disinfectant of all equipment, suitable interim guidance has been published by the EUCDC. Changing a disposable covering is not a sufficient infection control strategy. If the therapist is unwell themselves, they should not provide manual therapy until they are recovered.
- Close physical contact with an opponent may expose an athlete to risk. There is no data to formally quantify this risk but it is assumed exposure will vary by sport. For example, cricket and tennis has effectively no contact between opponents. Combat and contact sports, however, may involve significant close contact for minutes at a time Any form of racing in a pack or peloton is also likely to have an increase risk.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
The AIS Athlete Wellbeing team has developed some helpful information to support the wellbeing of athletes, coaches and staff during these unprecedented circumstances.
While this is a global issue, we appreciate that the nature of high performance sport is unique and the impacts on our high performance community are significant.
- Fear of falling ill, losing livelihood, the challenges of securing the things you need (i.e. groceries and personal care items) being socially excluded or quarantined.
- Feeling of powerless in protecting loved ones or providing appropriate care and support.
- Feelings of hopelessness, boredom, loneliness and depression due to isolation.
- Uncertainty or ambivalence towards the situation, which may include high performance objectives as well as personal circumstances.
- Some people may find they experience positive emotions such as a sense of pride about finding ways of coping, a sense of resilience or satisfaction from witnessing community altruism and cooperation.
If you are experiencing any of the above responses remember that this is completely normal under the current circumstance.
- Limit media exposure to useful and quality information sources (e.g. the AIS website & Department of Health website)
- Stay connected to your support network to foster a sense of normality, share feelings and relieve stress.
- Practice self-care by doing things that work for you and are consistent with health advisory guidelines e.g. additional physical activity, eat well, follow routine, meditate, do things you enjoy.
- Keep things in perspective by educating yourself about the facts and taking reasonable precautions as advised by reliable health information sources.
- Share useful and quality information to friends and family.
- Be aware of the social stigma and discrimination that can be associated with pandemics and seek to be inclusive.
- Psychological First Aid is a research-informed method to help people (including ourselves) which looks at the practical ways to support people by LOOKING out for people with serious distress reactions, LISTENING to needs and concerns and LINKING people with social support, information and professional help if needed.
- While most people will be able to build on existing coping resources, we can expect that a minority of people will experience a negative response that worsens or does not settle over a period of weeks to months.
- A level of anxiety over coronavirus is completely normal however if the anxiety or stress you are experiencing continues to acutely impact on everyday life, and is not responding the strategies suggested above, a trained mental health professional may be able to help.
AIS Mental Health Referral Network
With this is mind, the AIS Mental Health Referral Network is opening its availability to impacted friends and family networks of our categorised athletes and staff in the high-performance sports that we service. If people would like to seek mental health support or advice from the AIS Mental Health Referral Network, they or someone on their behalf can contact on the below details. The service is covered Mon – Fri, 9am – 5pm AET. A qualified clinical psychologist is available to speak to them about their needs and connect them with one of our mental health professionals around Australia.
Mental Health Referral Network
Ph: +61 2 6214 1130
Funding and assistance for athletes
Due to the effects of COVID-19 in Australia, the Federal Government has made some immediate changes to the way in which individuals who have lost their job can receive financial support. This will apply to athletes and support teams who might have lost their casual, part-time or full-time work.
The main changes include reduced eligibility requirements and an easier process to receive Job Seeker benefits for permanent, casual and contract workers who are either made redundant, are stood down, or are no longer offered shifts.
As always - your AW&E National Manager is there to help you if you need more information.
Whether you are eligible for government assistance will depend on your individual circumstances. To work out whether you are eligible, see the below link or go to your MyGov account.
Applications for assistance can be made through MyGov. If you don’t have a MyGov account already, you will need to create one.
For more information please visit the Services Australia website.
Depending on your age, you may be eligible for different kinds of assistance. For example:
- If you are over 22, you may apply for Job Seekers payment. Call 132 850 for more information.
- If you are 18 to 22, you may apply for the Youth Allowance for Job Seekers (this might be subject to additional tests of your parents if you are a dependant). Call 132 490 for more information.
Again, it will depend on your specific situation.
For more information please visit the Services Australia website.
You will need to meet the income and residency tests (but the government will be waiving some other tests for new applicants). As always, if your funding exceeds the income limits to receive Job Seeker payment you may not be entitled. You will need to check your individual circumstances.
Any benefits you might receive may also be adjusted if you are over the applicable threshold per fortnight.
- Work out the income limits to receive Job Seeker payments.
You will also need to meet the income and residency tests mentioned above. Please note that if you live with a partner, their income will also be taken into account up to a certain threshold.
The government has introduced online fast-tracking measures for new Job Seeker applicants through MyGov (removing many administrative hurdles). However new payments are still subject to certain waiting periods (the income maintenance period and compensation preclusion period). In short – it may take some weeks for you to receive your first payment after you are approved which may also take time.
If you are not affected by coronavirus and are not required to self-isolate, you will be required to look and apply for jobs, and/or do activities to help you become job ready. However the government has reduced the amount of jobs you are required to apply for given the situation.
If you’re isolated at home because of coronavirus, you can be granted a Major Personal Crisis exemption for 14 days, which can be extended. This means you are exempt from having to look for work, though you still have an obligation to remain ‘job ready’ for when you are no longer isolated.
Casual workers (if eligible) can apply for the “Cornovirus Supplement” payment which includes $550 per fortnight for up to 6 months paid to both existing and new recipients. This is mostly for people who already receive benefits (not funding) from the Federal Government. This includes AusStudy recipients, carers and recipients of family tax benefits, etc.
For more information go to: www.treasury.gov.au
Travelling to sporting events
As of the 25th of March, the Federal Government has issued a complete ban on international travel. Except for returning back to Australia there should be no international travel for sport or training purposes.
From Sunday 22nd March most State and Territory Governments are advising against non-essential interstate travel, this includes all forms of travel by car, air or rail. There is no sport or training related reason why individuals or teams should be travelling interstate.
Based on their individual circumstances, sports should take prudent steps with regard to test events, international competitions and training camps. The Smart Traveller web page provides advice regarding the current travel advice for Australians. This will include an overall recommendation and specific note of COVID-19 contribution if this is applicable.
There are four levels of advice:
- Do not travel
- Reconsider your need to travel
- Exercise a high degree of caution
- Exercise normal safety precautions
The Smart Traveller site also has explanations of what this means for the general public.
- There is no justifiable reason for a sporting team to travel to this location for training and competition purposes and a team should not travel.
- A concerning and elevated risk has been identified and travel in most instances should be avoided by sporting teams.
- There may be instances where appropriate risk mitigation strategies can be put in place to support travel. These can be identified using the COVID-19 Decision-Making Framework for International Travel .
- Expect these risk mitigation strategies to include significant coordination from your Chief Medical Officer, insurance company and local health authorities.
- Use the COVID-19 Decision-Making Framework for International Travel to evaluate the need and benefits of travel, risks associated with travel and identify suitable risk mitigation strategies.
- Travel may proceed if sufficient risk mitigation strategies can be put in place. This is likely to include travelling with a team doctor, minimising team size, minimising duration of stay, confirmation of travel insurance coverage.
- Teams should have a strategy to monitor risk factors and respond to significant changes.
- An early exit plan should be agreed upon prior to departure, including the threshold required for triggering an early departure.
- Sports should still work through the COVID-19 Decision-Making Framework for International Travel in the current setting given the rapidly changing situation.
- Where possible risk mitigation strategies should be implemented, these may include travelling with a team doctor, minimising team size, minimising duration of stay, confirmation of travel insurance coverage.
The issues around COVID-19 are complex and create difficulty when planning international travel. Apart from issues of health, sporting organisations need to take in to account factors such as medical support, infection spread trends, travel restrictions to the initial destination and the possibility that spending time in the initial destination may restrict opportunities to travel to secondary destinations. Travel to some countries may result in members of the group being reclassified by health authorities into an ‘elevated risk’ category when returning to Australia.
The framework below is designed to assist sporting organisations with risk: benefit analysis when travelling to areas affected by COVID-19.
As of the 22nd March no sporting team should be travelling interstate or internationally for training or competition.
Once travel restrictions have been removed the decision for a sporting team to travel internationally should be made on a case by case basis carefully balancing the benefits, risks and risk mitigation options. A framework to help National Sporting Organisations and teams work through their options should include at least the following:
- Why is the team travelling?
- What is the specific aim of the training camp or competition?
- Is the travel optional, important or necessary to achieve the overall objectives?
- Are there any suitable lower risk locations or events available that can provide the same or similar benefit?
- What is lost by not travelling to the intended ’elevated-risk’ location?
- How many people are in the travelling party and how long will the team be together?
- What are the current known risks and travel recommendations for the location you are going to?
- What are the current known risks and travel recommendations for adjacent locations in the region you are going to?
- What has been the recent rate of change for these locations?
- What are the key destinations and events for your team in the foreseeable future? Would the presence in an ‘elevated-risk’ location make travel to other locations more difficult, secondary to mandatory quarantine periods?
- Are there likely to be updates to the current travel recommendations? Formal recommendations from government departments will lag hours to days as they rely on indicator-based surveillance systems such as the WHO daily situation reports. One approach to monitoring this lag period include event-based surveillance tools such as MEDISYS used by the European CDC.
- How well is the destination medical system coping?
- Will you have a doctor travelling with your team?
- It is known that respiratory tract infections can spread rapidly within a sporting team once a team member has acquired an illness. Give due consideration to favouring a compact team size to limit overall team exposure.
- Can the time spent in ‘elevated-risk’ locations be minimised?
- Are there any suitable lower risk locations or events available that can provide the same benefit?
- What access to medical support and equipment will you have should an athlete become unwell or be suspected to have COVID-19? Other (non-medical) health professionals should not be expected to coordinate or provide medical care.
- Understand that actively unwell team members may have their travel interrupted by the increased screening for fevers at immigration check points.
- Confirm that current travel insurance will cover local medical treatment and evacuation if required.
- Make an appointment with your regular doctor prior to departure to ensure that your vaccinations are up-to-date and that you will have enough of your regular medications with the appropriate documentation for your entire trip and at least an additional week.
- The current situation with travel restrictions internationally is fluid and can change rapidly. Check the Smart Traveller website regularly prior to departure as well as the immigration department of the country you will travel to next. It is best to have in place contingency travel plans with the ability to change flights if needed.
- There is no need to alter your exercise or training if you are feeling well.
- There is no need to wear a mask in public if you are well.
High performance sporting events in Australia
Australia is entering into the building phase of the COVID-19 pandemic where it is expected that there will be significant strain on public health resources nationwide in the coming weeks to months. The sporting community must prioritise the health of its athletes, coaches, support staff and the wider community by limiting the impact of the pandemic on our national health care system.
Crowd attendance at sporting events and team gatherings in Australia at this time is likely to facilitate the rapid spread of COVID-19, resulting in additional pressure on the healthcare system. Exercise remains an important part of physical and mental health for everyone. For those who are well, they should continue to be active by engaging in regular exercise.
Recognising this increased risk, the closure of all non-essential services within the NIN has been implemented from the 24th of March. Essential services include doctors and nurses providing medical care, residential programs where athletes do not the ability to return home and operational staff coordinating athletes returning home.
All high-performance athletes should discuss with their national sporting organisation and coaching staff to identify safe ways to train individually, avoid mass gatherings and practice social distancing.
Athletes arriving in, or returning to Australia
Participation of international athletes and returning Australian athletes
As of March 29, the Federal Government has advised all people arriving in Australia will be required to go through a supervised quarantine process at the point of entry into Australia for 14 days. Any athletes’ coaches or staff entering Australia after this date must comply with these instructions.
As of March 15, the Federal Government advised that all people entering Australia from overseas are required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Athletes, coaches and staff who have arrived in Australia as of the 15th March, for the first 14 days should;
- Not attend work or training
- Only train using equipment they have at home (ie. stationary bike, treadmill, ergometer) that others living in the house do not have access to.
- For further information refer to Information for international travellers 15 March 2020
- For detailed advice on how to perform self isolation refer to Isolation guidance from the Department of Health
PCR testing of asymptomatic people is not recommended as a mode of “screening”. A negative test in asymptomatic persons does not decrease the minimum duration of self-isolation or social distancing.
- For international athletes travelling to compete in Australia, the Department of Home Affairs details the current travel restrictions in place.
- The AIS, AOC and Paralympics Australia acknowledge that there is complexity in determining an individual’s risk of transmission of COVID-19 by participating in sporting events and it is inappropriate to impose additional “health measures” which discriminate against certain ethnicities
- The AIS, AOC and Paralympics Australia strongly support the WHO guide to the prevention and addressing of social stigma
- As a member state of the WHO Australia has obligations to comply with the International Health Regulations (2005), which effectively state that any additional “health measures” such as exclusion from participation must be guided by scientific principles, available evidence of risk to human health and guidance from the WHO.
- Event organisers should not impose additional exclusion from participation of individuals without considered high level medical input.
- Dr Tedros director general of the WHO discussing stigma in the context of COVID-19
Gatherings and sporting events even under 500 people can pose additional infection control challenges. If there is concern regarding your event please discuss with your Chief Medical Officer or local public health unit to provide advice on risk mitigation strategies.
The closure of all non-essential services within the NIN has been implemented from the 24th of March. Essential services include doctors and nurses providing medical care, residential programs where athletes do not the ability to return home and operational staff coordinating athletes returning home.
It is expected that the current closures will be in place for the next several months. In this period the AIS will work with the NIN to establish a protocol to re-establish services in a low risk way that can be implemented once the public health authorities have deemed it safe to re-open.
If a comprehensive risk analysis is required the WHO document Public health for mass gatherings: key considerations should be referred to.
Identify and access risks
Plan public health measures
Revise assessed risks and newly identified risks
Figure 1 is a schematic that outlines the general process to complete this.
Administrative staff as well as Chief Medical Officers should be familiar with the current case definitions for COVID-19 as outlined by Communicable Disease Network Australia (CDNA). CDNA outlines what a confirmed case of COVID-19 is, what a probable case is and who should be considered a suspected case, including who should be investigated for COVID-19. This will help administrative staff understand the current risk and implications if a positive case is identified within a sport or workplace.
What is most relevant currently for Australian event organisers and hosts of international sporting teams:
- A confirmed case is a person who has had a laboratory confirmed test identifying the presence of the virus.
- Laboratory tests are not always going to be available, and it is useful to have other ways of identifying cases, this will include a combination of epidemiological (exposure) and clinical criteria that is identified by treating doctors.
- In the elite sport setting from a risk management point of view probable and suspected cases should be approached in the same manner as a confirmed case, even though a laboratory test may not have been conducted.
- The epidemiological criteria will continue to change based on where areas of COVID-19 outbreak occur in and outside of Australia and what exposure individuals have had to these in the 14 days before the onset of symptoms.
- People who have been in a team sport setting or training camp with 2 or more cases of illness clinically consistent with COVID-19 would likely be considered a “High risk setting” by the local public health unit and be considered suspect cases
- All healthcare workers with direct patient contact automatically fill the epidemiological criteria should they become unwell with a clinically compatible illness. Clinicians should have a continuity plan should they find themselves in isolation or become unwell.
- Public spaces and flights that have had known COVID-19 exposure are listed by state health departments. Doctors and administrators should check these sites regularly.
Sport relevant updates
AIS European Training Centre
The AIS European Training Centre (ETC) is located in Lombardy Italy, where there is currently active transmission of COVID-19. For these reasons, the ETC is currently not taking bookings for groups to enter the ETC. We will continue to update on ETC activities. More information about the COVID-19 outbreak in northern Italy can be found at the site on the Italian Ministry of Health website.
AOC welcomes postponed Tokyo Olympic Games, AOC, 25 March 2020
Statement on NIN Closedown 24 March 2020, National Institute Network, 24 March 2020
AOC plans for Athlete and officials’ safety in COVID-19 World, AOC, 19 March 2020