Sports journalists arrive in the designated hotel ahead of the Chinese Super League season opener, Dalian, China, July 23, 2020. (Photos: VCG)
When it comes to the unsettling upheaval of COVID-19, the speed with which everything changed feels bewildering.
The long-awaited return of the Chinese Super League (CSL) from its five-month coronavirus-induced deep freeze was supposed to dovetail with a reassuring wave of optimism and diminished apprehension over new disruptions to everyday routines.
Alas, a sudden COVID-19 surge in Dalian, one of the two choice locations for the CSL campaign, revived fears about the unforgiving nature of the deadly disease. After reporting zero local cases for 111 days, the coastal metropolis in northeast China's Liaoning Province dropped a bombshell on Thursday, confirming three new infections and 12 asymptomatic carriers.
Organizers have been encouraged by zero COVID-19 cases after 1,870 tests were conducted, Suzhou, China, July 23, 2020.
True to form, authorities in Dalian responded swiftly to stem the transmission, ordering some bus routes, cultural centers and entertainment venues to shut down and urging residents to stay put unless there is an emergency. Meticulous plans to test 190,000 of its potentially vulnerable citizens are also in the pipeline.
The emergency measures, for all the public support, have cast a shadow over the CSL season opener featuring defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua, which is slated to kick off at Dalian Sports Center Stadium on Saturday.
Amid a chorus of concern about the risk of staging high-profile games in one of the few coronavirus hotspots in China, CSL organizers are frantically keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that detailed instructions for how to act in current circumstances produce the desired effect.
Shanghai SIPG skipper Hulk is pictured wearing a face mask ahead of the Chinese Super League return, Shanghai, China, July 20, 2020.
According to extensive CSL health guidelines, dedicated solely to safety protocols, all players and staff members from the participating teams will be strictly confined to the sealed area. All activities in designated hotels and stadiums will be placed under close scrutiny and those who breach social-distancing rules and other restrictive regulations could face being disqualified from the tournament.
A total of 1,870 individuals from the CSL's two host cities - Dalian and Suzhou, an economic heartland in east China's Jiangsu Province - were tested for COVID-19 in the screening session with zero positive results. The news is another step in the right direction and after so many false dawns, the troubled league finally received a welcome respite.
Luo Weixing, a spokesman from Dalian municipal government, reaffirmed on Thursday that they will take the utmost precaution to ensure the well-being of all players and club staff, who will continue to be tested once a week after the pandemic-shortened season gets underway.
A Chinese Super League pattern is seen at Suzhou Taihu Football Sports Center, China, July 23, 2020.
The more thornier challenge, however, is that much is ultimately beyond the control of any player, team or organizer, all of whom are at the mercy of the unpredictability of the crisis.
"We will adapt to changing circumstances and environments as the coronavirus runs its course," said Luo, attempting to calm pre-game nerves.
"So far everything is running smoothly."