The PCB is set to host another season of the Pakistan Super League during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the first 15 games to be played in Karachi from January 27, and the remaining matches scheduled in Lahore, including the final on February 27. There are provisions in place to avoid a postponement even if a handful of players contract Covid-19 – the franchises have 20 players on their roster, with an additional pool of reserve players to provide cover in case of an outbreak.
ESPNcricinfo has obtained PSL’s Covid-19 protocol document, which details how the PCB will form its bio-bubble environment. The document broadly covers health and safety protocols that are being put in place at venues, and has a step-by-step guide to every stage of the tournament.
What will the PSL’s bio-secure bubble look like?
This season the PCB has replicated the biosecure bubble that was created by Restrata, an independent company that managed the environment during the rescheduled Abu Dhabi leg last season. The PCB will regulate the bubble itself, forming three distinct bubbles with different protocols.
The main bubble will comprise all teams, support staff, match officials, hotel staff and certain PCB officials. Vehicle drivers, close protection security staff, reserve players, bubble-integrity managers, anti-corruption officials and hotel staff will all reside within the bubble and are not allowed to leave. As per the guidelines, each franchise will be allotted rooms on a separate floor of the hotel and maximum possible efforts will be made to avoid interaction between teams at the hotel.
The second bubble will be created in a separate hotel and will include the TV production crew, key event management staff and essential hotel staff and drivers. The third bubble will comprise of groundstaff, who will be housed in dedicated biosecure accommodation.
Vigilance will be more stringent for the primary bubble. The bubbles cannot interact with each other and every individual will be required to follow general health and safety guidelines, as well as specific protocols to maintain the integrity of the bubble.
How often are teams going to be tested for Covid-19?
There will be as many as 17 tests starting on January 20 – the day teams are checking into the hotel. There is a mandatory three-day quarantine, followed by four days of training, before the tournament starts from January 27 in Karachi. The first three days of quarantine will have regular testing before everyone with two negative PCR results is allowed to enter the bubble. Every individual will then have a PCR test every second day.
What if an individual requires hospital treatment for an injury or illness?
The PCB has designated Agha Khan Hospital in Karachi and Hameed Latif Hospital in Lahore to handle all potential medical requirements of individuals involved in the PSL.
A medical passage will be established through which individuals requiring hospital visits for scans and/or consultations will be moved with minimal contact with others. Individuals will be provided a dedicated treatment room, sanitised passageways, PPE suits for all medical staff and will be taken around in a dedicated vehicle.
What happens in case of a positive test?
The individual(s) will be immediately separated from the rest of the squad and undergo a PCR test.
All close contacts (those who have had an interaction of longer than 15 minutes from less than two metres away in the previous 48 hours) will be isolated and tested. All casual contacts will also be isolated and tested immediately.
Once the case is confirmed as positive, the individual will isolate for a minimum of seven days and self-monitor their symptoms, providing updates to the Bio-bubble integrity manager. On day seven, if the individual is asymptomatic, they will have to undergo a Rapid Antigen Test and on returning a negative result, can be re-integrated into their bubble.
If symptoms persist on day seven, the isolation will continue till day 10. If the individual is asymptomatic on that day, there will be no need for an exit test to rejoin the bubble.
What happens if protocols and guidelines are breached?
With every team there will be a bio-bubble integrity manager policing the bubble. The offender may face a sanction ranging from reprimand to expulsion from the league. Penalties can be levied for minor or major breaches, from game bans to match-fee fines. The PCB can require any participant to quarantine in their hotel room in case of a breach, and undergo repeated testing.
How many fans will be permitted?
The PCB had originally announced full crowds for both the Karachi and Lahore legs. However, Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) determines regulations surrounding Covid-19 restrictions, and with cases rising steeply in Pakistan over the past few weeks – particularly in Karachi – the NCOC announced that the Karachi leg would see a maximum of 25% crowd attendance. Lahore, for now, is still set to see full crowds. Spectators’ entry is subject to Covid-19 protocols – no one will be allowed to enter the venue without a valid vaccination certificate.
What is the PCB’s contingency plan for a Covid outbreak?
Each of the last two seasons, the PSL was played over two legs due to Covid outbreaks, but this season, the PCB has made contingency plans to try and ensure the PSL isn’t postponed or cancelled. The PSL management will instead reset the bubble and start over after seven days, recreating the bio-bubble from scratch. In case of outbreaks among franchises, matches can go ahead as long as there are 13 players available on each side. There will also be a reserve pool for franchises to pick players from. A PCB official confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that if the league were to be postponed for some reason, it would have to be cancelled altogether, since there will be no window to play the remaining games.
Could the entirety of the PSL be held in one city?
It would appear unlikely at present. ESPNcricinfo understands that all bookings and hotel confirmations have been finalised in both Karachi and Lahore, and there are at present no plans to change that.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent