Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a persistent fear has been that of false negatives -- cases of those infected with the transmissible virus testing negative and being allowed to carry on with their regular lives, risking further infection. That fear was fuelled by the very public development of 15 out of 24 national footballers and a coach testing positive for coronavirus in their second test within three to four days of testing negative in the first.
Two other footballers had failed to take the coronavirus test before reporting to the team management on August 6 for the national camp, and they too tested positive for the virus.
Around 9:00pm yesterday, the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) announced the latest batch of eight footballers – Md Faisal Ahmed Fahim, Md Manik Hossain Molla, Monjurur Rahman Manik, Md Abdullah, Yeasin Arafat, Biplob Ahmed, Mahbubur Rahman -- and coach Md Masud Parvez Kaisar testing positive. All had tested negative before reporting for the camp on August 5.
The infected footballers had tested negative in various private and government hospitals around the country two to three days before reporting for the camp, as part of the BFF's guidelines. They were then made to undergo a second test under the BFF's supervision at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) on Wednesday and Thursday.
The test reversals have also upended the planned preparations for the national team for the Joint Qualifiers of Qatar World Cup and China Asian Cup. Till Thursday, only 15 footballers out of 24 checked in at Sarah Resorts in Gazipur for residential training but all of them are now under close observation for any symptoms of coronavirus.
Seven more footballers are scheduled to take the Covid-19 test at BSMMU today.
On July 16, the National Teams Committee (NTC) decided to have a 14-day pre-preparation camp in August for the national players.
BFF announced the 36-member preliminary squad on July 26 and the available players, in groups, started to report on August 5.
The first batch, comprising 12 players with the exception of Bishwanath Gosh (who tested positive in the first test and did not turn up) reported to national team manager Satyajit Das Rupu on Wednesday and the 11 other players, furnished with negative test reports, underwent their second test on the same day at the BSMMU. Three footballers -- Suman Reza, Nazmul Islam and MS Bablu -- tested positive within only two days of the negative result.
On Thursday, 12 more footballers, of whom 10 had negative reports and two failed to undergo the coronavirus test prior to reporting, took the Covid-19 test and seven tested positive.
According to information from the team management, of the 10 positive cases, three footballers -- Sushantha Tripura, Mohammad Ibrahim and Anisur Rahman Zico -- from Cox's Bazar took their first Covid-19 test at Cox's Bazar General Hospital and Chakoria Hospital.
Goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel and Sohel Rana underwent tests at Imperial Hospital in Chattogram and Anwar Khan Modern Hospital in Dhanmondi respectively while Tutul Hossain Badsha from Dinajpur and Rabiul Hasan of Tangail did not turn up with test reports.
Suman Reza was tested at Sheikh Hasina Medical Hospital in Tangail, while MS Bablu and Nazmul Islam had their tests at Evercare Hospital in Dhaka.
The reversal in results is a microcosm of the plight the country faces with the virus – except one or two cases, players from regions of high infection have been found infected, and the false negatives add to the atmosphere of fear.
It was not possible to ascertain where the eight players and the coach – who were revealed to be infected last night – had undertaken their original tests before reporting to the camp.
'20-30% MAY BE FALSE NEGATIVES'
Asked about the reversals in results, BSMMU Assistant Professor and BFF medical committee Deputy Chairman Dr Ali Emran said, "First, we have to be clear about negative and positive results, which is done by RT-PCR and efficiency of RT-PCR is almost hundred percent.
"Some 20 to 30 percent of Covid-19 negative reports may prove to be false negatives, which means reports coming back negative may not really be negative.
"Coming to positive results, if anyone tests positive, then there is no doubt about it except when that person recovers and again tests positive due to having the dead particle of virus in his or her body.
"There is no doubt about the authenticity of Covid-19 tests at BSMMU. Besides, BSMMU is giving it the highest priority because of the national football team," said Emran, who is also a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) medical committee.
'NO WAY TO STOP, MUST GO FORWARD'
These developments also forced the National Teams Committee Chairman and BFF Vice President Kazi Nabil Ahmed to reconsider plans for the national team's preparation camp.
"We are on course to play the World Cup Qualifiers because we don't have any option to avoid it. We are thinking of making those players, who have already tested positive but have no symptoms, take a second test within a week to see whether there are any false positive reports," said Nabil, hinting that they may test players at a private hospital this time following the first test done at a government hospital.
"If some players test negative, then we will keep them under observation before taking them to the national camp and the positives ones will be released for home quarantine," said Nabil. "If more players test positive in the second tests, we will call new players to the national team and they will also undergo the tests."
Head coach Jamie Day is perhaps a bit worried about the increasing rate of infection among national players but he is still scheduled to arrive in Dhaka on August 16 before taking over the team from the local coaches on August 23.
"He is certainly worried about the Covid-19 reports of the players but we don't have any option to stop, because we have to go forward," said Nabil.
With the increasing rate of infection among players, there has also been a fear of the impact of staging the qualifying match against Afghanistan on time.
BFF general secretary Abu Nayeem Shohag said, "We must hold the qualifiers maintaining the AFC protocol and we are hopeful of maintaining all protocols to hold the match on time."
"For now, we are not thinking much of any impact on the match due to the players' positive results because they are all asymptomatic and may get negative results in their second test. However, we will certainly think about it if we get any instruction from AFC or FIFA," said Shohag.