Dr Yacine Zerguini: "Think COVID in all circumstances"

The CAF Medical Committee is working hard to facilitate the football resumption in the best conditions. Dr Yacine Zerguini, Vice President of the said committee, reviews the CAF health protocol in the COVID-19 era, and makes recommendations for the success of Total CHAN, Cameroon 2020.

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What is your assessment of the health protocol put in place since the resumption of CAF competitions?

The Health Protocol relating to international matches put in place by FIFA and CAF is the culmination of a long process of return to play. Once the advent shock of this pandemic had passed, CAF and all the Confederations within FIFA reacted by suspending activities to protect the players of the game and the whole Football family.

This moment of total halt was used to better understand the situation and quickly establish conduct guides, and then binding procedures for the return to play. Being a member of the FIFA COVID Committee, and responsible for CAF COVID Committee, I had the privilege of being an active witness at the international and, above all, continental level. Responsibility for managing the pandemic and its impact on African football world was entrusted to our Medical Committee by President Ahmad and members of the Executive Committee. A heavy responsibility that we were keen to assume with the support of the administration.

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The recovery was made first by the Club competitions (2019-20 Total CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup), which had to be finalized in Morocco and Egypt. It was a first edifying experience that allowed us to refine our strategy with respect to all the other competitions that followed. It is not only to design a health protocol, but we must also provide ourselves with the human and material resources to implement it. Standards and procedures must also be established and strictly adhered to, while respecting the sovereign national health laws, on the sites of the matches, which are binding.

We, therefore, in the end, adopted the FIFA International Health Protocol, common to all confederations, for all CAF competitions, without exception: 2020 and 2021 CAF Interclub competitions (CC and CL), Match Days 3 and 4 of the AFCON Cameroon 2021 qualifiers, zonal qualifying tournaments for the U-17 and U-20 youth competitions.

The challenge lay in the complexity of the implementation: Medical and physical preparation of players, COVID tests, travel conditions, arrival in host countries, organization of emergencies during training and matches, organization for compliance with the COVID rules in places of accommodation, competition and in means of transport, without forgetting the protocol during matches. It was also necessary to control all this the day before the matches and during them.

We thus had the idea of ​​forming a network of COVID medical officers, nearly sixty (60) now, with strict instructions to manage this health protocol. Modern means of communication were used for their training. These same means are used in real time for the accomplishment of their task. The report form for each match (annex) bears witness to their heavy load which they carry out with enthusiasm. They are the linchpin, behind the immense success of the operation. All parameters are green, by the grace of God.

In the end, the reports that reach us are very eloquent, incidents are extremely rare, as is the percentage and number of matches postponed due to COVID. The COVID Medical Officers, all whose names are worth mentioning here, were present, very professional, and enthusiastic, despite their professional obligations. I pay tribute to them here. Also, I pay tribute to our administration represented by the Development Department and the CAF Medical Office.

Pitso Mosimane (R), the head coach of Al-Ahly shake hands with Al Ittihad head coach Hossam Hassn before the Egyptian Premier League soccer match between Al-Ahly and Al Ittihad at Al Salam Stadium in Cairo, Egypt, 28 December 2020. EPA:MOHAMED HOSSAM

CHAN will be CAF's first major international competition since the outbreak of Covid-19. What measures will be applied for this special event?

CHAN will indeed be the first major tournament of the COVID-19 era. From a medical point of view, we will benefit from the experience acquired during the last quarter of the year. The organization of the U-17 and U-20 zonal tournaments was beneficial from this point of view, as sort of rehearsals before a tournament as important and complex as CHAN. I would enjoy coordinating the whole, with very experienced and capable members of our medical committee and our specialists’ panel, as well as members of our medical office in Cairo. Inspections have been carried out to ensure the smallest details to strictly apply our programs, in collaboration with local medical organizers. Nothing is left to chance: PCMA and PCMA + exams, COVID program, Emergency program, and Doping controls.

Our colleagues from the qualified teams have already received a lot of information regarding the medical organization of the tournament. However, a whole training and information program is planned for them during the week preceding the tournament, in order to finetune the care of their players and to fully integrate the various protocols provided. Nothing will be left to chance.

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- For the players, considering the climate

We obviously know the average usual weather data in Cameroon during January. Temperatures will be close to 30 ° with a high humidity rate close to 80%. We know the science behind it. Our local players are mostly used to and adapted to these conditions. But we will be very vigilant as a preventive measure to protect the players’ health in the game, match officials included. The states of health, in the cardio-respiratory field, will be evaluated beforehand. The players who have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with or without symptoms, will be more closely monitored from a respiratory and cardiac point of view, with the obligation to provide the PCMA + medical file.

WBGT temperatures will be taken before each match and the appropriate decisions will be made in terms of rehydration.

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- For the public if allowed

 There are currently no new official decisions regarding spectator access. Matches under COVID-19 take place behind closed doors. But we have obviously prepared special provisions of the regulations in case the conditions could allow supporters to return to stands.

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What recommendations do you make for the optimal running of the competition?

I recommend for everyone self-discipline in pandemic behavior. The advice of the CAF Medical Committee must be followed to the letter: respect barrier and distancing gestures, wear masks outside the playing or training field, use plenty of soap and hydroalcoholic gel, and "Think COVID ”in all circumstances.