F1 hopes dealt double whammy


F1's hopes of getting the 2020 season underway have been dealt a double-whammy today.

Speaking to the nation tonight, prime minister, Boris Johnson confirmed that travellers to the UK will soon be required to self-isolate for 14 days after their arrival.

While the scheme isn't expected to be introduced until the end of the month, many are still questioning why it has taken the government so long to impose such a measure.

While other countries have placed arrivals in quarantine or closed their borders altogether, the UK was alone in not even screening new arrivals despite ever increasing cases of the virus.

While it is understood F1 bosses have been communicating with the government to discuss its plans for testing and quarantine measures once the season gets underway, the Independent reveals another major hurdle facing the sport.

Just days after Ross Brawn revealed that "everybody will be tested and will receive clearance before they can go in to the paddock" at forthcoming events, a top virologist claims that F1 personnel would need to be held in isolation for at least five days and would need to be tested three times during that period in order to get the all-clear.

"Current tests are not sensitive enough to detect infections within the first couple of days after infection," Dr Jeremy Rossman, a virologist at the University of Kent, tells the Independent.

"Most people will have a detectable virus in three to five days, so testing everyone three times over a span of five days would give good confidence that most people are not infected."

He adds that "all staff would have to be isolated during the testing and during the whole event".

In other words, if F1 personnel catch the virus in the five days leading up to being tested, it will not be detectable. Consequently, infected personnel could still show up as being negative for the virus.

To avoid this, those who test negative would need to be tested again five days later in case they caught the virus in the days prior to their first test. Between the two tests the personnel would be required to stay in solitary confinement to ensure they do not pick up the virus from anyone that they might come into contact with.

This process of testing and quarantining would be required before every event and personnel would have to test negative every time.

"If you get your infection during the day, you will not be able to diagnose it in the evening," Marc van Ranst, a virologist who is advising UEFA about the virus, told ITV recently, when asked about plans to get the Premiership underway again. "It takes a while for the virus to take hold and be detectable. It is detectable in your throat after three days before you develop symptoms, but it won’t be detectable in a couple of hours after being infected."

"Even this stringent testing process would likely miss an individual with a prolonged incubation," says Rossman, "(as) there are some reports of incubation periods as long as two weeks."

"Just one infected person that slips through the isolation could then spread the virus to multiple people, especially over a multiple day event," he adds, "I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate the risks associated with the event, though it is possible to minimise them, albeit with significant effort of all people involved.

"The international nature of this event is one of the biggest causes of concern," he adds, referring to F1'#s plans for an 18-race schedule. "I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate the risks associated with the event.

"Removing the spectators is a good step, but with the very large number of support staff, the risks of international transmission and triggering multiple COVID-19 resurgences is very real."

World Health Organization (WHO) adviser, Professor David Heymann says the only hope of reducing the amount of time spent in quarantine is ongoing research into testing of the nasal passage which allows the virus to be detected earlier.

While he admits that there is no guarantee the research will be successful, he adds that if it is, it "might compensate for some of the lag period – by the time of the F1 some of these new procedures may have been proven to be effective".

Despite Ross Brawn's undisputed success as a technical director, he is not a virologist, nor is Chase Carey or indeed Liberty CEO, Greg Maffei, and it should be remembered that before they can race all drivers need to be insured.

Insurance companies will not listen to the likes of Brawn, Carey, Maffei or any of the team bosses of outfits currently struggling to survive, instead they will listen to medical experts.

While the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled after just one team member tested positive, despite the encouraging comments from Grand Prix Drivers' Association chairman, Alex Wurz, in reaction to the measures being suggested by F1, let's not forget that as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen jetted out of Melbourne even before the red flag was waved, Lewis Hamilton was on Instagram admitting: "Honestly don’t want to leave my hotel room".

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Published: 11/05/2020
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