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Copa America rocked by Venezuela Covid outbreak on eve of opener

Published : Monday, 14 June, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 119

BRASÕLIA, JUNE 13: At least eight players from the Venezuelan national football team have tested positive for Covid-19, the Brazilian health minister said Saturday, a day before they play the opening match of the Copa America against hosts Brazil.
Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga told a press conference that eight Venezuelan players and four coaches had tested positive Friday, shortly after arriving in Brazil.
"They're all fine. They're all isolated in their hotel, along with those who had contact with them," he said.
The South American football confederation, CONMEBOL, later updated the total, saying 13 members of the Venezuelan delegation had tested positive.
Captain Tomas Rincon revealed on Instagram that he was one of them. "I deeply regret not being able to represent my country," he posted.
Meanwhile, three Bolivian players and a member of the team's technical staff tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of their Copa debut on Monday against Paraguay, the Bolivia soccer federation said late Saturday, adding that all were in isolation.
It was the latest bad news for the controversial, pandemic-battered South American championships, which kick off Sunday when Brazil play Venezuela in Brasilia.
The outbreak is unlikely to force the cancellation of any matches.
CONMEBOL said Friday it would allow teams unlimited substitutions for players who are ruled out because of positive Covid-19 results or contact with infected people.
Venezuela said it had called up 15 new players as emergency replacements.
However, the infections add to the headaches of organizers already facing sponsor pullouts and a flurry of criticism over the decision to press ahead with the tournament despite the pandemic.
Brazil coach Tite said he regretted that the five-time world champions -- already heavy favorites -- would be facing a weakened Venezuela.
"It's a shame. I would have liked it to be a match between equals," he told journalists before Brazil's last pre-tournament practice.
He reiterated what he called his "direct criticism" of organizers for insisting the tournament take place.
Osnei Okumoto, head of the Brasilia city health department, told CNN Brasil that the health department was tracing everyone the infected people had been in contact with and would test the positive samples to determine which strain of the coronavirus they were carrying.
Already hit hard by a local variant of the virus, the "Gamma" strain, Brazil has been nervously eyeing the "Delta" strain that emerged in India.
It has reported several imported cases, but there is no confirmation of local transmission so far.
Originally scheduled for 2020, the Copa America, the world's oldest international football tournament, was delayed 12 months by the pandemic.
The tournament nearly had to be called off again after losing original co-hosts Argentina and Colombia at the last minute because of a surge of Covid-19 in the former and violent anti-government protests in the latter.
The Copa was controversially saved when far-right President Jair Bolsonaro gave his blessing for Brazil to stand in as hosts.
Epidemiologists warn the event could exacerbate a Covid-19 outbreak that has already claimed nearly 485,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States.
Matches will be held in empty stadiums, including the July 10 final in Rio de Janeiro.    -AFP

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