Twelve members of Venezuela’s Copa America football delegation have tested positive for COVID-19, health officials in host country Brazil said on Saturday, a day before the tournament’s opening match.
In a statement, the Health Secretariat in Brasilia said the 12 Venezuelans who tested positive “include players and members of the backroom staff”.
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The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) made the diagnosis on Friday night, shortly after the Venezuelan team arrived in Brazil, and informed local health authorities.
“All are asymptomatic, isolated in individual rooms, and are being monitored by the CONMEBOL team and local health officials,” the statement added. The department did not say how many players had tested positive.
The Venezuelan football team is due to take on reigning champions Brazil on Sunday evening at the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia.
CONMEBOL said on Friday that it would allow teams unlimited substitutions for players who are ruled out because of positive COVID-19 results or contact with positive teammates.
The news comes after several groups and individuals – including some coaches, players and Brazilian senate staffers – raised concerns about Brazil hosting the football tournament amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The South American nation has been hard hit by the virus, recording more than 484,000 deaths – the second-highest total in the world – and more than 17.2 million infections to date, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Many Brazilians blame far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a COVID-19 sceptic who has rejected public health measures to stem the virus’s spread, for the surging pandemic – and they had urged Copa America be postponed.
Last week, staff members of a senate commission investigating Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic urged organisers to delay the tournament, citing low COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country, among other risk factors.
“Brazil does not offer sanitary security for holding an international tournament of this magnitude,” they said in an open letter. “We are not against Copa America in Brazil or anywhere else. But we believe the tournament can wait until the country is ready to host it.”
But Bolsonaro had welcomed CONMEBOL’s decision to relocate Copa America to Brazil after original co-hosts Colombia and Argentina were nixed due to ongoing political unrest in the former, and surging COVID-19 infections in the latter.
The Brazilian Supreme Court on Friday also ruled that the tournament, which will run from June 13 to July 10, could go ahead.
Various judges, however, ordered the government to take additional safety measures.
“It falls to (state governors and mayors) to set the appropriate health protocols and ensure they are respected in order to avoid a ‘Copavirus’, with new infections and the emergence of new variants,” wrote Justice Carmen Lucia in her ruling.
According to an XP/Ipespe poll released on Friday, 64 percent of Brazilians were against hosting the cup, while 29 percent were in favour.
Among Bolsonaro’s critics, 83 percent said they were against holding the tournament in Brazil, while 35 percent of his supporters also did not support the competition.