SINGAPORE - Two cornermen slated to be a part of One Championship's Inside the Matrix event at the Indoor Stadium on Friday have tested positive for Covid-19, the Singapore Tourism Board and One announced on Thursday night (Oct 29). However, they have been determined to be past infections.
The two, hailing from the United States and Russia respectively, tested positive on Tuesday. Prior to the positive test, they had tested negative before flying into Singapore, and had also tested negative upon arriving.
In a media statement, STB and One said: "To determine if their infection is current, serological tests were conducted for both individuals on Oct 28, and their results have come back positive.
"The Ministry of Health has determined that these are past infection cases, following epidemiological investigations.
"Recovered cases may continue to shed non-viable, non-infectious viral fragments for weeks or even months after infection, which may lead to positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results.
"As an added measure, both men will be undergoing PCR tests again today. They will only be allowed to participate in the event if their results are negative."
Serological tests detect antibodies to Covid-19 from a blood sample, as a marker of past infection. Those with a positive serological test would have been infected in the past - at least 10 days earlier - and would no longer be infectious after a period of isolation.
The two individuals are understood to be cornermen of two mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters set to feature - top-billed competitor Aung La N Sang, and a second unidentified fighter who is not part of the event's main six-bout card.
In combat sport, cornermen can be trainers, coaches, cutmen, or training partners, and often spend a lot of time in close proximity to their fighter.
This could explain the case of Aung La's cornerman. One's light-heavyweight and middleweight world champion, who is from Myanmar but trains out of the United States, had tested positive for Covid-19 in July and is now recovered.
STB and One explained that all foreign-based athletes and production crew members involved in the Inside the Matrix event must be tested four times - before departure from their country of origin, on arrival, pre-fight and post-fight.
They must also remain in isolation until they receive a negative test result, after which they will follow a strictly controlled and pre-approved itinerary.
"Public health and safety remain our top priority," they said in the statement. "These past infections were detected through the screening protocols and stringent measures that were put in place to safeguard the health of our local community as well as other athletes and production crew members."
Inside The Matrix will be the first live sport event in Singapore to feature spectators since the coronavirus pandemic, with 250 tickets snapped up within hours of going on sale.
The event comes three weeks after One's previous closed-door show, Reign of Dynasties, which was also held at the Indoor Stadium.
The events are part of a pilot project the Government hopes will help identify a model that can be widely implemented so that more large-scale events can resume safely in Singapore.
One founder and chief executive officer Chatri Sityodtong had told ST on Monday that the same stringent measures put in place for the Reign of Dynasties will be adhered to.
Aside from the testing protocols, travelling for individuals slated to be a part of the show was limited to the event "bubble" and athletes were not allowed to leave their rooms even when they tested negative.
Liaison officers accompanied athletes at all times, with training allowed only at private designated areas within the hotel, and fighters had to follow strict schedules through an online booking system.
At the arena on event night, One had to ensure a maximum of 30 people were in designated zones at any one time.
For the Inside the Matrix event, attendees will be required to undergo an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) at a designated clinic on the day of the fight and produce a valid negative ART certificate before they are allowed into the venue.
ARTs return results in about half an hour, compared to the gold-standard polymerase chain reaction test which takes a few hours.
Inside the Matrix is One's biggest event of the year, and will feature six fights, four of which are world title bouts. The main event will see Aung La defend his middleweight belt against undefeated top contender Reinier de Ridder of the Netherlands.
The event will also be televised live on the official One super app and YouTube channel.
While some might consider the positive tests of the two cornermen bad news, they are, on the contrary, a good sign: They show that the stringent safety protocols Singapore has put in place for Inside the Matrix are working.
The MOH has determined that these are past infection cases, and the duo could still be cageside come fight night should PCR test results come back negative.
The incident is a testament to the robustness of the testing protocols that even past infections are detected. This is vital if this pilot project – which is the first large-scale sports event here to not only allow spectators but also welcome hundreds of visitors from abroad – is to be considered a success.
The transparency of STB and One, in acknowledging these positive tests and outlining clearly the procedures that follow, serves to boost confidence in the systems set in place.