Geoff Berkeley

After two-and-a-half years of managing to escape the jaws of COVID-19, it finally struck me and came just when I started to think that I might be one of the lucky ones.

Most of the symptoms were there as I experienced a persistent cough, sore throat, high temperature and an aching body.

For several days, I struggled with exhaustion, and it took a little over a week until I finally returned a negative test result.

It was a real shock to the system when I contracted COVID-19 last month having been triple vaccinated and I know I am not the only one who has tested positive for the first time in recent weeks.

"It still exists?" was the response I got from one person when I mentioned that I had recently caught the virus and I am sure there are many others that feel the same way.

With figures no longer broadcast daily and all legal COVID-19 restrictions banished in February in England, there is a sense of feeling that the pandemic is behind us.

But COVID-19 still lingers as the more transmissible Omicron variant continues to mutate and sweep across the world, resulting in more cases.

An estimated 2.71 million people had COVID-19 in Britain in the final week of June, according to the Office of National Statistics.

The figure is an increase of 18 per cent compared to the week before, with the latest statistics finding that one in 25 people had COVID-19 during that period.

It is understood that the reason for the rising cases is down to the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

Birmingham 2022 have implemented measures in a bid to combat the threat of coronavirus ©Getty Images
Birmingham 2022 have implemented measures in a bid to combat the threat of coronavirus ©Getty Images

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc to the sporting world since the global pandemic was first declared in March 2020 and any mention of the virus brings back dark memories.

Events have had to be either rescheduled or cancelled altogether, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics most notably postponed by 12 months.

Normality has started to resume with athletes back competing in front of packed crowds in many tournaments across the globe as COVID-19 measures ease.

After Tokyo 2020 was held almost entirely behind closed doors and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics were staged under the strictest of conditions with a limited number of spectators, it was great to see fans flock to the Birmingham 2022 World Games.

Around 27,000 spectators attended the 42,000-capacity Protective Stadium to witness the Opening Ceremony on Thursday (July 7).

Participants had originally been required to present a negative COVID-19 test result to enter the United States for the Games that are being staged one year later than planned due to a reshuffle caused by the postponement of Tokyo 2020.

Those requirements were dropped last month after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its regulations.

However, the 3,600 athletes from 108 nations competing at the Games must be fully vaccinated, unless religiously or medically exempt.

Reading through the Birmingham 2022 World Games media guide, there is only one mention of "pandemic", while the words "coronavirus" and "COVID-19" do not feature at all.

It is refreshing to see, but after being hit hard by the virus myself I realise how important it is not to drop your guard and there is simply no let up for sporting organisations which must continue to adapt to the evolving situation.

Thousands of fans attended the Opening Ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 World Games ©The World Games
Thousands of fans attended the Opening Ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 World Games ©The World Games

The International Cycling Union (UCI) updated its COVID-19 policy on the eve of the Grand Départ of the Tour de France in response to outbreaks of cases at the Tour de Suisse.

A total of 29 riders were forced to pull out of the UCI WorldTour event in Switzerland after testing positive for COVID-19, with teams Alpecin-Fenix, Bahrain Victorious and UAE Team Emirates all withdrawing following cases.

UCI President David Lappartient felt the situation was "less worrying than the one we saw at the height of the health crisis" but stressed the need to remain vigilant.

Although some measures have been tightened, the UCI opted to scrap the rule that authorised organisers to withdraw any team that had two or more riders returning positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests within seven days.

Despite the updated rules, COVID-19 has hit the Tour de France with Norway’s Vegard Stake Laengen of UAE Team Emirates and Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard of AG2R Citroën Team among the latest to withdraw following positive tests.

Two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar of Slovenia admitted COVID-19 was a "big scare" after teammate Laengen was forced to pull out.

"Every day on the road, on the climbs, there are so many people screaming at you, cheering, which I like, but it increases possibility you get infected by viruses," said Pogačar.

"I hope this was it, that we don’t go home because of it and we will stay safe until the end."

Tadej Pogačar has expressed his concerns over COVID-19 after several riders tested positive ©Getty Images
Tadej Pogačar has expressed his concerns over COVID-19 after several riders tested positive ©Getty Images

The World Athletics Half Marathon Championships that were rescheduled to be held in November in Yangzhou, are the latest premium event in China to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were coronavirus concerns in the Volleyball Nations League with Germany recently forfeiting a match with China because of fears that the opposition had the virus.

Returning to England, Wimbledon has also not been played out without COVID-19 cases with Italy’s Matteo Berrettini and Croatia’s Marin Čilić pulling out after testing positive, forcing organisers to strengthen the tournament’s protocols.

Worryingly, French player Alizé Cornet, who ended Polish top seed Iga Świątek’s 37-match winning streak at Wimbledon, claimed players hid cases during last month’s French Open.

"In the locker room, everyone had it and we said nothing," Cornet told French newspaper L'Équipe.

"I saw girls wearing masks, perhaps because they knew and did not want to pass it on."

With fewer than three weeks to go until Birmingham is due to stage the Commonwealth Games, organisers have confirmed the action plan to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

Under the rules set out in its playbook, all athletes and officials will be required to take a PCR test before travelling to Birmingham and then another upon arrival.

Among the recommendations include social distancing, wearing masks in "indoor settings while in close proximity to athletes and on Games transport" and avoiding contact with others when experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

With thousands of athletes travelling from 72 nations and territories where COVID-19 is likely to be still prevalent, it is reassuring to see Birmingham 2022 making such efforts to protect participants in a bid to avoid outbreaks of cases.