SARS-CoV-2 transmission during rugby league matches

SARS-CoV-2 transmission during rugby league matches: do players become infected after participating with SARS-CoV-2 positive players?

Ben Jones, Gemma Phillips , Simon Kemp, Brendan Payne, Brian Hart, Matthew Cross, Keith A Stokes

Br J Sports Med 2021;0:1–7

The Super League is the top-level professional rugby league club competition in the Northern Hemisphere. The league has twelve teams: eleven from England and one from France. Matches restarted on the 2nd of August 2020 with a number of risk mitigation factors implementing including removal of scrums, players undergoing routine weekly reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) screening, and daily self-reported COVID-19 symptoms.

A prospective study of all 36 Super League matches played between 1st of July 2020 and 4th of October 2020 identified 4 matches in which players subsequently tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 within 48 hours of having participated. Of the 136 players in the 4 games; 8 players tested positive, and a further 28 players were identified as “increased-risk contacts” who observed a mandatory 14 day self-isolation as per Public Health England guidance at that time. Players were deemed an increased risk if they were within 1 meter, or face to face for more than 3 seconds. This was assessed using video footage of the game and global positioning systems (GPS) when available.

Of the 28 “increased-risk contacts”, one tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 within 14 days of the game. The 100 players deemed not at an increased risk, 5 returned positive SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR results and 95 tested negative over the 14 days following the matches.

The 6 positive cases were most likely traced to social interactions, car sharing and wider community transmission and not linked to in-match transmission. There was no observed transmission to match officials involved in the matches.

The data suggests that the transmission risk during the rugby league matches which were observed is likely to be very low. This was despite tackle involvements and close proximity interactions with SARS-CoV-2 positive players.

Other comments
The study was completed prior to more virulent and transmissible COVID-19 virus mutations being widespread.
Every sport has different demands, and this data may not be directly applicable to other close contact sports.
The effect on virus transmission of re-introducing scrums is unknown.
One of the twelve teams in the Super League is based in France.

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