With less than two days to go for the the India Open in New Delhi, COVID-19 cases are climbing in the Indian contingent and there's air of apprehension surrounding the tournament. World no 18 Sai Praneeth has pulled out after his re-tests in Hyderabad returned positive on Sunday. The first international badminton event being hosted in India in over two years is even before it's start, rapidly turning into a microcosm of the scenario playing out across the country. The fear is that there could be more withdrawals by the close of the week.
Badminton Association of India (BAI) confirmed that another Indian player, doubles specialist Dhruv Rawat, has withdrawn as well. It is learnt that at least two more players from the country - a men's singles player and one half of a doubles pair also have tested positive.
This comes after the England squad, according to organisers, withdrew from the January 11-16 World Tour 500 event two days ago ahead of their India trip following two members of the contingent testing positive. English men's doubles player Ben Lane had tweeted that COVID-19 tests of his partner Sean Vendy and coach Nathan Robertson weren't favorable which has forced the fourth seeds to skip this year's Tour opener.
Sai tested positive during the Thailand Open Super 1000 in January last year, and it led to his roommate Kidambi Srikanth having to pull out too. "It's unlucky that I've tested positive just ahead of India Open. Thankfully I have only cough and cold and no fever or body ache. What happened in Bangkok was perhaps a false positive but this time I know my body feels different," he says, "Even before my results came in i was apprehensive how the tournament would go ahead given the rising number of cases in the country. The situation is not great."
Top players in the field - including PV Sindhu, Kidambi Sripath, Lakshya Sen and newly-crowned world champion Loh Kean Yew have already arrived in the Indian capital and BAI is going ahead with the closed-door event even as Delhi reels under climbing numbers. On Saturday, the State health department confirmed that 20,181 new cases had been reported in the last 24 hours, the highest since May 5 last year. On Sunday, the numbers reportedly crossed 22,000.
Organisers have said that daily COVID testing will be mandatory before anyone can enter the venue. The top-25 players will undergo them at the five-star official hotel where they're put up and the rest of the players and personnel involved in the event who are staying at accommodations of their choice, at a testing booth set up outside the IG stadium. Daily testing also throws up the possibility of daily positive cases and pullouts and the six-day tournament runs the risk of at least a handful of them.
A new set of guidelines for inbound international travelers notified by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will kick in from tomorrow, January 10, which will require everyone flying in from overseas to be under home quarantine for seven days. "It's not a worry for us since most of our foreign players have arrived or are arriving before the new rules come into force," said an official.
The India Open is the first of three BWF events in the country scheduled for the month. Next week, Lucknow will host the Syed Modi Super 300 and it will be followed by the Odisha Open, a Super 100 event.