SINGAPORE - The Republic's hopes of a historic medal at the Feb 15-20 Badminton Asia Team Championships have taken a hit after Loh Kean Hean - one half of Singapore's top men's doubles pair - tested positive for Covid-19.
The Straits Times understands that he had taken a pre-departure polymerase chain reaction test on Saturday (Feb 12), ahead of the national team's arrival in Selangor on Monday.
A positive result was returned on Sunday and he did not fly with the team. Instead, he is now recovering at home.
The Singapore women's team were also hit by Covid-19, with three players having just recovered, including the nation's No. 1 woman player, Yeo Jia Min. Coupled with niggling injuries to Yeo and Jaslyn Hooi, the team were also forced to withdraw from the championships.
The spectre of the pandemic has loomed large over the biennial event, with powerhouses such as China, Chinese Taipei and Thailand withdrawing from the competition.
Singapore Badminton Association technical director Martin Andrew acknowledged that Loh's absence will be missed, but was optimistic that there is enough depth in the team to cope with their bid to qualify for the Thomas Cup.
While a decision will be made ahead of their opener against hosts Malaysia on Wednesday, the SBA could reunite Loh's regular partner Terry Hee with veteran doubles player Danny Bawa Chrisnanta. As a unit, they had won the lower-tier Nepal International in 2017 and were ranked as high as 60th in 2018.
However, this means adjustments will have to be made down the line as Chrisnanta has been partnering Andy Kwek to good effect of late, with the 247th-ranked pair winning the lower-tier Swedish Open in January.
Singapore's third doubles duo in Malaysia are 19-year-olds Wesley Koh and Junsuke Kubo, who are ranked 794th.
Andrew said: "It certainly affects the doubles line-ups. Terry is still with the team and may be fielded with one of the other boys filling either the top or second pairing. We have the flexibility within our players to do this.
"It certainly makes the job harder to get a strong result but all three of our pairings are good, with very little between them, and they will do their best. The opposition in the men's event is strong, so we will take each match as it comes and see what we can do."
Loh and Hee are ranked 85th in the world. They had reached the quarter-finals of the India Open, a Badminton World Federation World Tour Super 500 event, in January, and won the lower-tier Dutch and Czech Opens last October. They were ranked as high as 33rd in 2017.
Singapore, who also have world champion Loh Kean Yew (world No. 12), Jason Teh (104), Joel Koh (274) and Lim Ming Hong (unranked) as their singles options, will take on Japan on Thursday before concluding their Group B campaign against Kazakhstan on Friday.
The top two teams from each group will progress to Saturday's semi-finals and qualify for the Thomas Cup, badminton's premier team competition.
While Malaysia have registered a strong team comprising world No. 7 men's singles player Lee Zii Jia and seventh-ranked men's doubles duo Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, Japan and Kazakhstan do not have any players in the top 100 within their men's squads.