Twelve people from the Venezuelan national football team, including players and staff, have tested positive for Covid-19, officials said Saturday, a day before they play the opening match of the Copa America against hosts Brazil.
In the latest in a cascade of bad news for the troubled South American championships, the health department in Brasilia, which is slated to host Sunday’s kickoff match, said it had been informed of the positive test results by tournament organisers Friday night, shortly after the Venezuelan team arrived.
“The health department was notified by CONMEBOL (the South American football confederation) that 12 members of the Venezuelan national team’s delegation, including players and coaching staff, tested positive for Covid-19,” it said in a statement sent to AFP.
“All are asymptomatic and isolated in individual hotel rooms. They are being monitored by CONMEBOL’s team and health department officials.”
The department did not say how many players had tested positive.
CONMEBOL said on Friday it would allow teams unlimited substitutions for players who are ruled out because of positive Covid-19 results or contact with positive teammates, meaning the cases were unlikely to force the cancellation of any matches.
Earlier, its top official, Health Secretary Osnei Okumoto, told CNN Brasil that five Venezuelan players and five staff had positive results.
He said health officials were tracing everyone the infected people had contact with and would carry out genetic testing on their test samples to determine which strain of the coronavirus they were carrying.
Venezuela are slated to face Brazil on Sunday in Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadium to open the Copa America, which was already delayed by 12 months because of the pandemic.
The tournament nearly had to be called off again when original co-hosts Argentina and Colombia fell through over a surge of Covid-19 in the former and violent anti-government protests in the latter.
It was controversially saved at the last minute when far-right President Jair Bolsonaro gave his blessing for Brazil to host, despite warnings the event could exacerbate a Covid-19 outbreak that has already claimed nearly 485,000 lives in the country, second only to the United States.