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‘Football is not an essential service’: Experts divided on NRL return

However, some experts remain sceptical.

Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney, labelled the NRL’s restart date “presumptuous” and said it was sending the wrong message to the rest of society.

“I understand the business imperative and there is an element as well where it is important for social and mental wellbeing for people to feel a sense of normalcy as much as possible,” Kamradt-Scott said.

“But the reality is any arbitrary date at the moment is arbitrary. We have seen in other countries that have relaxed measures too early that it has resulted in countries reasserting strict social-distancing measures.

“This is always the challenge with disease outbreaks – as you see the numbers go down, people start to think the crisis is over and we can go back to normal. But the reality is that if it’s done too early, we become back in the midst of it as well.

“What we need people to do – and this includes organisations such as the NRL – is to stay the course.

“We need them to continue to behave responsibly so we can get the country back on its feet sooner rather than later. But if they jump the gun and restart things too early we will confront the situation where we will see cases rise again and us having to go back into stronger restrictions.

The experts are divided over the restart of the NRL season on May 28.

The experts are divided over the restart of the NRL season on May 28.Credit:Getty

“The most immediate example of that at the moment was Singapore, which was praised early in the pandemic for its rapid control and suppression of the virus, but now they are recording cases in the hundreds again.

“That is a clear example of what can happen if the measures are lifted too early … I’m concerned about the message [the NRL restarting] sends to the rest of the community. Football is not an essential service.”

Murphy said the NRL had not sought permission from the country’s top health emergency body about restarting.

“I would be hopeful that decisions around starting codes would have national cabinet approval, because there’s more than one sporting code,” Murphy told a senate inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic.

“The federal government and the Minister for Sport’s office are obviously in ongoing discussions with the NRL. There hasn’t been a formal process of seeking approval from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, to my knowledge. We haven’t been asked for formal advice at this stage.”

Australian Rugby League Commission director Wayne Pearce, who is heading up Project Apollo, said on Wednesday the third round of the premiership would “definitely” resume on May 28. The NSW government’s position hasn’t changed since Pearce’s comments, with formal approval yet to be granted.

“The public health orders do not prohibit the NRL from re-starting its season,” a NSW government spokesman said.

“It’s up to individual organisations to ensure they comply with the health rules, and operate within them.

“The NRL has sought its own health advice and whether the NRL or any sport can safely restart its season within the current health advice is a matter for them.”

The Herald is seeking comment from the office of Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Are NRL stars such as Blake Ferguson returning to the field too soon?

Are NRL stars such as Blake Ferguson returning to the field too soon?Credit:NRL Photos

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was scheduled to speak to ARLC chairman Peter V’landys on Thursday. In an interview on 2GB, Dutton said he was supportive of an NRL restart, although he acknowledged the Warriors would need an exemption from Australian Border Force to participate. He added that he was seeking clarity from the Queensland government about its border controls.

“Getting the NRL up and started is an important part of the next steps that we take to normalise and return back to life the way we knew it only a few months ago,” Dutton told The Ray Hadley Morning Show.

Professor Nigel McMillan, director in infectious diseases and immunology at the Menzies Health Institute Queensland, said the NRL could be cautiously optimistic about a May 28 return if its biosecurity protocols were sufficiently stringent.

“It’s not impossible,” he said. “If one player plays a game and is infectious, both of those teams will be out of the competition for a couple of weeks, if not longer. That’s the only obvious flaw. That’s just a bit of an issue around timing.

“The only way this can work in close physical contact is to make sure none of the players are infectious at all.

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“They clearly need to be tested regularly; I would say twice a week.

“I haven’t seen their plan but, from my mind, as a virologist, that would be a no-brainer as to how they handle it.”

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