2020 has started like the script of an apocalyptic movie. Australia burned with a ferocity not seen before, before being inundated with floods that washed ash into waterways, killing species of fish and polluting drinking sources. And around the same time, a virus was taking grip in Hubei province in China. The coronavirus is likely to have come from a seafood market, and like other coronaviruses, this one came from a zoological sink – so animals. This particular strain is known as COVID-19. Exactly what happened in the Chinese health care system cannot be certain, but early efforts to contain the virus were not successful, and it has spread to 50 other countries and killed almost 3000 people. You can see up to date data here.
Implications for the Cape Epic
The Cape Epic attracts riders from around the globe to an event village where large numbers of riders and support staff are under immense physical load for 8 days. It’s a top ranked mountain bike stage race according to the UCI, but more importantly it has huge prestige amongst us mountain bike racers. The Cape Epic attracts the best of the best, and it is a bucket list event for just about any mountain biker. While it carries a high cost to enter and compete, the personal reward for completing the event, or achieving the result you want, are immense.
The Cape Epic is a mass gathering that already has problems with hygiene each year, due to the sheer numbers of people living in close proximity, variable hygiene practices, and riders’ immune systems being suppressed during the arduous 8-day mountain bike stage race.
The World Health Organisation’s documentation reveals the problem that mass gatherings create for disease control:
“There is ample evidence that mass gatherings can amplify the spread of infectious diseases. The transmission of respiratory infections, including influenza, has been frequently associated with mass gatherings. Such infections can be transmitted during a mass gathering, during transit to and from the event, and in participants’ home communities upon their return.”
The UAE Tour (a professional road race) was cancelled with two stages to go as two Italians were confirmed to have the coronavirus, and other events in Europe, such as the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Strade Bianche, and Milan San Remo, which has barely stopped for world wars, are in doubt.
So what can the Cape Epic do? The WHO recommends that any major events work with international and national health authorities. A lot of their suggestions involve planning for implementation of emergency measures including treatment and quarantine, including accounting for participants and attendees. Given the size of the event and the professionalism of the organisation, the Cape Epic will easily be able to account for its participants and support staff, with registration of all camp members already in place.
Of course, having those same details for the event crew and service crew (which are at least as numerous as competitors) adds another layer of complexity for any sporting event, and of course the Cape Epic is a big one. Some say the event village houses upwards of 3000 people. And by house, I mean in small tents using portaloos, shower trucks and eating in a massive communal tent.
With over a thousand mountain bikers in a fatigued state with reduced immune response sharing close quarters and toilets, showers and eating facilities, the Cape Epic like any other mass-participation sporting event, might have a big red warning light above it at the moment. Each year the medical tent already does a roaring trade from people with problems based around being ill and becoming dehydrated.
Competitors come from nearly every country on the globe, will have been sitting in packed airplanes and moving through busy airports before arriving. Screening for temperature and recent visits to Asia is already in place in South African airports is in place.
The Cape Epic is already a petri dish – if anyone with the coronavirus gets added to it there would be huge fallout.
While that seems unlikely for now, and the biggest medical threat in the camp is still likely to be gastro from tired riders absent mindedly skimping on hygiene best practice, riders will be feeling more anxious than usual in the next two weeks’ lead-up – if not for their health, then for the security of their investment. There is already talk about whether the Tokyo Olympics can proceed… a cancellation of the Cape Epic or travel to South Africa due to global pandemic conditions would be unlikely to be covered by many insurers.
What’s happenning in Africa?
With one case of coronavirus in Algeria and one in Egypt – not a whole lot has been reported.
Reports from riders already arriving in South Africa are that they are being scanned on arrival. Africa is a huge continent and whether all ports will be taking such measures is not known. Again, the risk is more about someone bringing coronavirus to the Cape Epic, or other major sport event, and infecting countless people who may then go and spread it to the city and country they reside in.
While Australia is already acting as if the WHO has declared a pandemic, no other country is, and travel restrictions are minimal save for those from mainland China.
WHO guidelines for coronavirus
As for most viruses, basic guidelines from the World Health Organisation focus on regular hygienic practice.
“Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.”
The WHO have also put together some myths, and busted them, about the coronavirus. It covers using sesame oil, garlic or even chlorine to reduce the chances of infection (spoiler, they don’t work). Using soap and water and washing your hands thoroughly, or using an alcohol-based hand wash is recommended. Always dry your hands thoroughly.
While there is no vaccine (yet) the WHO do recommend that you get vaccinated against respiratory illnesses.
What should you do?
If you have entered any sports event, not just the Cape Epic, it would be a great time to check the details on your travel insurance, to see if you could be out of pocket if things go south. And if you’re planning travel for later in the year, you need to remember that the coronavirus still has a long way to go until it’s played out. If travel insurance has been booked prior to an outbreak, you might be covered. You cannot be covered for a risk you would have already been aware of.
Check your flights as well, some airlines have cut services due to the decreased demand and you may have had an alert about flight schedule changes. With some airlines cancelling flights, it is worth contacting your airline if you have travel booked. For example, Qantas will let customers cancel or rebook flights booked on or before January 24.
Of course, the only place currently on the ‘do not travel’ list is China. So if you’re in the process of booking travel and insurance (and yes, do both at the same time) for an event later in the year, screen shot any statements online about extent of cover. It is easy for this to change at a later date. And beware that a travel downturn will take a toll, and some companies could go under between now and your planned trip. Beware that travel advice will continue to change, as South Korea, Japan and Italy have all had their status changed.
Keep an eye on the Smart Traveller website, or a similar site in your country, to check on any recommendations for the country you are visiting.
You should also be very aware of your own personal hygiene, and as stated above, make sure wash your hands properly and avoid touching your face or being in contact with other people. Regardless of what happens, this is best practice and one of the best tips for getting through any stage race in one piece!
So far there is no release from the Cape Epic so we can assume that the preparations suggested by the WHO are being put in place. The coming months will be an interesting time as the global impact of the coronavirus plays out. What kind of year lies ahead for athletes and travellers who are used to travelling the globe? Health is always a top priority for any athlete. In 2020 we all may need to put competition and experiences secondary to looking after our health.