Pre-ordered meals, strict micro bubbles: How S'pore ran an international tennis event safely

Workers wearing face shields and masks clean the court during the Singapore Tennis Open, on Feb 22, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
Staff dressed in PPE plate the food that is ordered from the buffet line. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Local tennis players Shaheed Alam and Roy Hobbs received a taste of what international competitions might be like in the future when they competed at the Feb 22-28 Singapore Tennis Open.

Each gained a wild card into the singles qualifying round and moved into the tournament bubble with the overseas players a few days before qualifying started on Saturday (Feb 20) at the OCBC Arena. That meant that they also had to deal with the strict protocols which included taking a daily polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and moving only within their own "micro bubbles".

Tournament organising chairman Lim Teck Yin, who is also the chief executive officer of Sport Singapore, told media at the pre-event press conference on Feb 19 that organisers "spared no effort to maintain micro bubbles". This meant that no groups would ever mix and this was ensured at various levels.

The players were housed on eight floors of the Pan Pacific Hotel and two rooms on each floor were converted into gyms for players staying on that floor. They also had exclusive access to the 22nd floor for dining and massages.

In the dining area, the players ate only with members of their own entourage in cubicles. Meals were ordered beforehand and placed on tables by servers who would leave before players arrived.

Players could leave their rooms only for meals, gym training and practice sessions and matches at the OCBC Arena but had no restrictions on how long they could be out for. They could travel only with members of their own entourage.

At the tournament venue, tournament staff, officials and players also operated in separate bubbles to minimise interaction.

Virtual press conferences, electronic line judges and dedicated socially-distanced zones were in place to further segment the working groups.

Ball kids had to wear gloves, masks and face shields and did not handle players' towels. New balls were also used at every session to minimise the chance of cross-infection.

Some members of the staff and officials such as the swabbing team and racket stringers were also required to don full personal protective equipment.

Shaheed, 22, said he was initially nervous about taking the PCR test but he got used to it after taking it a few times. He said he found the travel restrictions "quite normal" because that would also be his routine when he competed overseas. "It's mostly just hotel to courts and back unless I have meals at a nearby mall," he explained.

After his last match on Feb 22, he was placed on a stay-home notice and could only check out of the hotel three days later.

Lim explained that the stringent protocols were there because it was important to instil confidence in the Singaporean public that "in spite of the pandemic situation, we're able to comply with national protocols and minimise all risks associated with Covid-19" when hosting an international event such as the STO.

While the biggest name in the tournament, 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, did confess that he struggled a little with the monotony of "practising then going back to the room" he still had praise of the level of organisation of the STO.

He hailed the tournament as "one of, if not the best, indoor tournaments" he has played in.

He added: "The two match courts and the three practice courts are incredibly good and I know there are many indoor tournaments struggling to have this many courts on a quality like this so I really consider the Singapore Open and the OCBC Arena one of the best I've played in."

Common areas at OCBC Arena are sanitised hourly. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Audience members taking the antigen rapid test at OCBC Arena, on Feb 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

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