JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jun 27 – There have been seven positive tests for coronavirus at four clubs as the South African Premiership — the richest in Africa — prepares to restart.
Orlando Pirates midfielder Ben Motshwari was the first player to be infected with the COVID-19 disease and has made a full recovery.
Another midfielder, Given Mashikinya from Bloemfontein Celtic, also tested positive and is in quarantine.
Also in self-isolation are two unnamed Kaizer Chiefs players and three unidentified non-playing members of the Stellenbosch FC staff.
“The affected duo will be in self isolation for the stipulated period of 14 days,” a Chiefs statement said.
“They will be retested after the isolation period and if their tests come back negative, they will be able to rejoin the squad.”
A Stellenbosch official said: “We are assisting the staff members to recover as safely and speedily as possible and mitigate the risk of exposure to other employees.”
The coronavirus pandemic has yet to reach its peak in South Africa with health minister Zweli Mkhize warning this week that “the worst is yet to come”.
By late Friday, 124,590 cases of COVID-19 infection had been recorded with 2,340 deaths from the disease in the most industrialised African country.
The government gave the go-ahead this week for the Premiership, which offers 40 million rand ($2.3 million/2 mn euro) prize money, to resume.
– Mid-July resumption –
Clubs have between six and nine fixtures to fulfil in the 30-round season with reports suggesting a mid-July resumption.
Pitso Mosimane, coach of defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns, says the 16 clubs will need a minimum of three weeks to prepare for the restart of a league halted three months ago.
Sundowns, who trail leaders Chiefs by four points but have played one match less, and sixth-place Bidvest Wits have the most matches to play and face a hectic schedule.
All matches will be played in one of the nine South African provinces with Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal reportedly the favourites.
“Finishing the season in one province is our best option health wise as it should enable us to control the environment,” Premiership chairman Irvin Khoza said.
Apart from a potentially thrilling title race, with Chiefs and Sundowns yet to meet in the second round, a fierce struggle is looming to avoid relegation.
Only seven points separate seven clubs with Black Leopards propping up the standings on 20 points, three less than AmaZulu, Polokwane City and Baroka FC.
Clubs pay a heavy price when they drop to the national second division, where the monthly grant is 400,000 rand compared with 2.5 mn for Premiership outfits.
The Premiership champions pocket 15 million rand but the second-tier league winners collect only 300,000 rand.