The Chinese women’s soccer team has arrived in Sydney, bringing to an end a two-week journey that began in Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, and took in Shanghai and Brisbane.
It was a sombre scene as they touched down after spending a week confined to their hotel in Brisbane, in quarantine to ensure they had not contracted the virus.
There was little cheer and even fewer smiles for the cameras that awaited their arrival at Sydney Airport as a clearly frustrated squad could finally begin preparations for the Olympic qualifying tournament.
“Now is not the right time for interviews,” an official said.
Dressed in black tracksuits, they quickly collected their bags and immediately headed for a waiting bus.
After losing the hosting rights for the tournament due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese team travelled to Australia to play the qualifying games. They will hold their first training session in western Sydney later on Thursday before Friday night’s opening game against Thailand at Campbelltown Stadium.
Earlier, they checked out of a Brisbane hotel after a week-long quarantine period, during which the the squad trained in corridors.
Others in the hotel had been notified fellow guests had been quarantined. By Tuesday, there had been no indication that members of the group showed any symptoms of infection. The end of the quarantine period at midnight on Wednesday marked two weeks since the team had last been in Wuhan.
The Matildas play China next Thursday at Parramatta in what is expected to be the decisive match of the tournament. Australia begin their campaign on Friday night against Chinese Taipei, but won’t likely start that match with captain Sam Kerr. The Chelsea striker has only just resumed full training after a minor quad strain but will unlikely be risked for their first match due to the congested match schedule.
Coach Ante Milicic will have to rotate his squad to manage the fatigue of three games in six days and concedes starting Kerr in the first game could be a risk.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “We will know a lot more … [when we know how] she pulls up after [Thursday’s] session because she has been carrying this injury for a while. Now she is back home, our staff know her body better than anyone and she has responded well to the treatment.
“We wouldn’t want to put any player at risk and, at the same time, our duty is that, at the end of this tournament, they go back to their clubs in a good physical state where they are available.”
Midfielder Tameka Yallop is in doubt to play on Friday night after suffering a cork.
The Chinese team’s departure comes as Queensland confirmed its fourth case of novel coronavirus on Wednesday night, a 37-year-old Chinese national from Wuhan.
The man had been travelling as part of a tour group of nine and is now isolated at Gold Coast University Hospital, which is where the state’s previously confirmed three cases are being treated. All four remain in a stable condition.
The case takes the number of those confirmed in Australia to 14, with four each in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, along with two in South Australia.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Wednesday accused the federal government of abandoning the state’s tourism industry in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison to enact the same funding arrangements used during natural disasters.
Two Australians on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship have also contracted the virus as the ship and its nearly 3700 passengers and crew remain in quarantine off the coast of Yokohama, Japan.