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Portuguese soccer team hit with 13 cases of Omicron variant

Portuguese soccer team hit with 13 cases of Omicron variant
Belenenses SAD (R) was forced to forfeit its match against Benfica on Saturday due to an outbreak from the Omicron strain of the coronavirus, which resulted in 13 positive tests among players and staff members. Photo by Antonio Cotrim/EPA-EFE

Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Thirteen cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus are linked to members of a professional soccer team based in Lisbon, Portugal, National Health Institute Dr. Ricardo Jorge announced Monday.

Jorge said in a news release that the positive cases all come from members of Belenenses SAD, a Lisbon-based club, which competes in Primeira Liga. He also said one of the players recently traveled back from South Africa, where the strain first was detected.

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Portuguese health authorities determined that close contacts associated with the outbreak should isolate, regardless of vaccine status and level of exposure, while "awaiting more information regarding the transmission, impact and vaccine effectiveness against the Omicron variant."

Portugal's health general director, Graca Freitas, told TSF radio that the outbreak includes members of the team's staff, in addition to players.

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Freitas also said that players and staff members from Benfica, Portugal's largest soccer club, also will be tested for the virus.

Benfica faced Belenenses SAD on Saturday in Lisbon. Belenenses SAD started the game with nine players, trailed 7-0 at halftime and forfeited the match in the second half.

"Football only has heart if it is competitive," Belenenses SAD midfielder Afonso Sousa tweeted Saturday. "Football only has heart if it is really sporting. Football only has heart when it is an example of public health. Today, football lost its heart."

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The Benfica and Belenenses SAD team presidents held postgame news conferences Saturday and blamed the country's health authorities and Premier Liga for not postponing the game.

"We should all be ashamed of what happened, but under no circumstances is Benfica responsible for what happened," Benfica president Rui Costa told reporters. "It does not benefit Portuguese football. ... Do not pass that burden on to Benfica."

The World Health Organization said Sunday that the "likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high" due to its ability to mutate and elude efforts to block the strain.

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Belenenses SAD is scheduled to face Vizela in Primeira Liga play at 3:15 p.m. EST Dec. 6 in Caldas de Vizela, Portugal. Benfica is scheduled to host Sporting at 4:15 p.m. EST Friday at Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica in Lisbon.

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