Exeter's Baxter calls for end to COVID-19 testing in Premiership

(Reuters) - Professional rugby players should no longer be tested for COVID-19 as there is no evidence of “mass outbreaks” within healthy Premiership squads, Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter said.

FILE PHOTO: European Challenge Cup Semi Final - Exeter Chiefs v Toulouse - Sandy Park, Exeter, Britain - September 26, 2020 Toulouse's Alban Placines scores their first try Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Premiership squads have been tested every week since July, with a total of 68 positive cases among players and staff recorded in 12 rounds of testing so far.

Those who test positive are isolated but Baxter, whose side lead the Premiership and qualified for the European Champions Cup final at the weekend, said stopping testing would save clubs money while making tests available to others.

“When you look at how few cases are being picked up, I don’t think we are far off (having) genuine medical reasons to not continue with the testing,” Baxter told reporters.

“I think most clubs would be in agreement that the actual transfer rates even around players who are testing positive are so, so small. I think the argument for continued testing will die away pretty quickly.

“It would save a fortune and free up a block of testing for other people. Because of the hygiene levels that are in place and the age range of the players, positive tests are not leading to mass outbreaks.”

However, Baxter warned players not to let down their guard and said they would have to be extra vigilant as they headed into the final stretch of the season.

Exeter have an eight-point lead in the Premiership with two games left and play in their maiden European final against twice runners-up Racing 92 on Oct. 17.

“It would be criminal now to allow your standards to slip or to make that one mistake that means you’re unavailable for the biggest games of the season,” Baxter said.

“The reality of COVID is that rugby players probably aren’t going to be ill beyond a cold or mild symptoms but you’ve got to keep throwing reminders out there.”

Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; editing by Clare Fallon