AFL limits contact at training to small groups amid coronavirus fears

The AFL has banned clubs from conducting full-contact training in groups of more than nine players and staff as it grapples with its latest coronavirus crisis.

The decision was made and relayed to clubs on Monday in order to mitigate risk after Essendon’s Conor McKenna returned a positive COVID-19 result over the weekend.

Clubs will be permitted to continue contact training in groups of up to nine, and larger groups can still conduct ball movement drills providing there is no contact.

In another decision by the league, players and approved club staff must not visit other houses, or have visitors in their house, within 48 hours of their weekly pre-match day test.

The new rules have been put in place until at least July 22 and apply to all 18 clubs.

AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon said the strengthened protocols were simply enforced to mitigate the risk at both clubs and in the community.

“The COVID-19 virus is still a major challenge for the wider community, and the events of the weekend serve as a reminder to all that we must continue to ensure the appropriate precautions are in place and, most importantly, followed,” Dillon said.

“These protocols were put in place to protect the health and safety of the players, staff and their families from the COVID-19 virus as well as the wider community and we must continue to be vigilant.

The regulations update came as Essendon’s entire playing list was being tested at Docklands on Monday amid fears the Bombers could temporarily lose their first-choice backline.

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Health authorities are edging closer to a determination on who was in “close contact” with McKenna, and Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has confirmed those who were will be forced to quarantine for 14 days.

Adam Saad, Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Matt Guelfi, Jordan Ridley and Mason Redman were all reportedly in McKenna’s small training group.

Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell said the club expected a decision within 48 hours, possibly as early as Tuesday.

The Bombers’ round three match against Melbourne was postponed indefinitely, causing a fixture headache for the AFL.

It is hoped Saturday night’s meeting with Carlton will go ahead as planned, however Essendon’s line-up could be ravaged.

“It’s still too early to tell,” Campbell told Triple M on Monday.

“It may well be that there is a minimal amount of close contact determinations and it’s a limited impact in the short-term, which means the season can progress.

“We would love for that to happen.”

Bombers will play if they have 25 fit players

The AFL has confirmed Essendon would be obliged to play under league rules that state games will proceed providing they have 25 fit players — enough for a matchday team and emergencies.

Carlton head of football Brad Lloyd said the Blues were preparing for the game to go ahead.

“We’ll minimise any of that distraction and get ready for the game,” Lloyd told Racing and Sport Network on Monday.

“I feel the game should be going ahead. If there’s the groups of eight, they can quarantine players that have been exposed.

“That’s why all these systems have been set up.”

Essendon players have been in isolation since Saturday and those forced to serve the 14 days in quarantine will do so until July 4.

The AFL is believed to be considering pushing back the Essendon-Collingwood clash from July 3 to allow time for those players to return.

The entire Bombers backline took part in an indoor weights session with McKenna on Friday after a full-contact session with the entire list.

Players who test negative on Monday could still be quarantined if they are ruled to have come into close contact with McKenna.

AAP/ABC