FILE - Customers eat in a cafe after more than seven weeks of coronavirus restrictions, in Sydney, Australia, May 15, 2020.
FILE - Customers eat in a cafe in Sydney, Australia, after more than seven weeks of COVID-19 restrictions on May 15, 2020.

SYDNEY - The first major sporting competition in Australia is restarting Thursday after weeks of COVID-19 lockdown. The National Rugby League (NRL) has adopted strict biosecurity measures and has developed a health check app for players.

Australia’s National Rugby League season was suspended on March 23 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 16-team competition kicks-off again Thursday with a match in Brisbane.

It is another sign that life in Australia, which has contained the outbreak, is beginning to resemble what it was before the coronavirus crisis.

Clubs and administrators have been eager to re-start the season for financial reasons, while for many fans it is another sweet taste of normality.

Six venues will be used during what officials have described as "Phase 1" of the league's resumption.  The stadiums were chosen because they were best equipped to meet biosecurity protocols.

Commentator and former player Peter Sterling told Australian television that he is surprised the NRL has been able to resume so quickly.

“I thought that it was the height of optimism that six weeks ago May 28 would be a starting date for us because we knew that there were going to be so many obstacles,” he said. “You know, obviously we have done a great job of flattening that curve and getting it down to a stage where we can start to interact. But that was a long way away six weeks ago, so it has been remarkable leadership, and I guess the great thing for our game is the fact we are leading the way.”

Games will initially be played in empty stadiums, but the Australian Medical Association has criticized the league’s plan to have crowds back by July, labeling it “absurd” and “dangerous.”

The Australian Rules Football League, another of the country’s dominant professional sports, has said its matches will start again on June 11. There is no definite date for professional soccer matches to resume as the easing lockdown restrictions, including the reopening of schools, cafes, and places of worship, gradually continues.

The men's Twenty20 World Cup cricket competition is due to be held in Australia starting October 18. It is unclear if it will go ahead because of the pandemic.

Australia has had just over 7,100 known cases of COVID-19.  As of Thursday, 103 people had died. 

  

 

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