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Buriram United’s Ismatullaev Tests Positive for Covid-19, Upending Thai League

Akbar Ismatullaev, a new Uzbekistani player for Thai League 1 club Buriram United, tested positive for the coronavirus during a preseason test.
Akbar Ismatullaev, a new Uzbekistani player for Thai League 1 club Buriram United, tested positive for the coronavirus during a preseason test.

Another new local case of Covid-19 has upended the top-flight Thai football league two days its restart.

Akbar Ismatullaev, a new Uzbekistani player for Thai League 1 club Buriram United, tested positive for the coronavirus during a preseason test. His positive test result was confirmed by the Public Health Ministry at a press conference this evening.

The ministry did not reveal Ismatullaev’s identity, saying only the player was 29 and from Uzbekistan. Ismatullaev was born Jan. 10, 1991.

According to a timeline released by the ministry, Ismatullaev arrived in Thailand  on Aug. 13 and spent 14 days in an alternative-quarantine hotel where he twice tested negative for Covid-19.

He then took a van to Buriram and reported to the club the nest day, having lunch with three foreign teammates. He then went to practice, dinner with the same group at a local restaurant.

Ismatullaev played in two preseason matches on Aug. 30 and and Sept. 5 and was tested again for Covid-19 on Sept. 8 before flying to camp in Samut Prakan on Sept. 10 via AirAsia.

All 43 Buriram United team members and staff have been quarantined and their Sunday opener with Bangkok Glass postponed. Tomorrow’s Thai League Ratchaburi FC-True Bangkok United match also has been postponed as was the M-150 Championship between Khon Kaen United and Navy FC as they involve sides that Buriram played in the preseason.

Health ministry officials said they are unsure how the footballer contracted the virus, but floating the unlikely scenario he was infected in Uzbekistan, despite having left there a month ago and twice testing negative since.

Ismatullaev is the second Buriram United footballer to test positive for the coronavirus. Striker Marko Scepovic was revealed to have Covid-19 while in alternative state quarantine on Aug. 1.

Unlike Scepovic, however, Ismatullaev’s infection is counted as a locally transmitted case of Covid-19, the second in eight days amid mounting evidence that the virus is spreading silently again throughout Thailand, undetected by a lack of mass testing.

In addition to a prison inmate who sold drugs while working as a deejay in pubs in Bangkok and Nonthaburi who was found to be infected on Sept. 3, a South Korean man tested positive for Covid-19 upon returning to Seoul, it was revealed on Wednesday.

Thai officials increasingly have been worrying aloud about the potential for the coronavirus leaking over the border from Myanmar, which is suffering a virulent new outbreak, and have begun mass testing in border provinces. But no such testing is being done in metropolitan regions, despite new evidence that the “G” strain of the virus that had devastated the United States and Europe is now circulating in Thailand.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Friday that if more local Covid-19 cases emerged, the government would not re-impose a nationwide lockdown, but instead implement local lockdowns to protect the economy.

A major new study released Wednesday by The Asia Foundation concluded that another nationwide lockdown would be “catastrophic” as 60 percent of Thai tourism busiensses already are set to fold within six month and 70 percent of Thias have seen their incomes fall by 47 percent.

Dr. Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Medical Science Department, told the media Friday that the deejay/inmate was infected with the G strain, which to date has only been found among infected returnees from abroad in state quarantine.

The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, meanwhile, reported seven new cases in quarantine on Friday, bringing the country’s official tally to 3,461, not including the footballer. Of those,  3,312 have recovered and 91 others were in hospitals. The death toll remained unchanged at 58.