Bundesliga strugglers Hertha Berlin have become the first top-flight German team to be ordered to quarantine after two players and two staff members tested positive for coronavirus, potentially throwing the end-of-season fixture list into chaos.
Hertha announced on Thursday morning that head coach Pal Dardai, assistant coach Admir Hamzagic and striker Dodi Lukebakio had tested positive, and that the team and staff would go into isolation, but still be able to train and play.
But a fourth positive test, this time defender Marvin Plattenhardt, led to a mandatory 14-day quarantine. All four are said to be symptom-free.
Hertha have applied to postpone their three upcoming fixtures against Mainz on Sunday, Freiburg on Wednesday and Schalke next Saturday but, with regulations stating that any further positive cases would see the 14-day quarantine period start from scratch again, further postponements could follow, leading to a fixture pile-up.
“The same rules apply to Hertha as to schools and hospitals,” said Detlef Wagner of the local council in Berlin-Charlottenburg.
“It is absolutely the right step from a health perspective,” said Hertha sporting director Arne Friedrich. “It obviously affects us from a sporting point of view because we will have six games to play before the end of the season on May 22nd.
“The team will keep fit with coached virtual sessions during the quarantine. We will do everything in our power to have a successful end to the season.”
Hertha have already endured a difficult season, sacking former head coach Bruno Labbadia and general manager Michael Preetz due to a poor run of form and goalkeeping coach Zsolt Petry for remarks considered homophobic in a Hungarian newspaper. They currently sit fourth from bottom, outside the relegation zone on goal difference only.
Holstein Kiel facing fixture congestion
Hertha may be the first Bundesliga team to have to quarantine, but the fixtures have been piling up in Germany’s second division for weeks.
Particularly affected are promotion-chasing Holstein Kiel, whose last four games have been postponed due to team quarantine measures, seeing them drop out of the top three.
With a German Cup semifinal against Borussia Dortmund scheduled for May 1, the last day of the season falling on May 23, and the relegation/promotion playoffs following just three days later, Kiel face a mammoth schedule.
The situation is reminiscent of that of Dynamo Dresden last season, who were forced to play nine fixtures in 29 days and were ultimately relegated to the third division.
Elsewhere, Kiel’s promotion rivals Hamburg, who are attempting to return to the Bundesliga at the third attempt, have had their game against Karlsruhe on Tuesday postponed. Like Kiel, the Karlsruhe squad is in quarantine until April 20 due to coronavirus infections, two more of which were reported on Thursday.
International football has been affected too, with Germany’s Felicitas Rauch testing positive ahead of a friendly against Australia last weekend. Despite testing negative, teammates Lena Oberdorf, Sara Doorsoun and Svenja Huth also had to quarantine due to close contact with Rauch.
DFL: Warning to clubs
In a letter to the 36 clubs which make up the top two divisions on Thursday, DFL chief executive Christian Seifert ruled out ending the season with teams in isolated “quarantine training camps” for now but warned of the potential fixture pile-up if cases continue to rise.
“This decision is based on the basic assumption that all clubs want to end the season, including the playoff games, on the pitch [and not by lottery],” read the letter, which was seen by Kicker magazine.
It also suggested additional measures, including the permanent wearing of FFP2 masks, increasing the number of team buses, showering and changing at home after training, holding team meetings outdoors where possible and leaving rows of seats empty on flights.
The president of second division side Sandhausen, Jürgen Machmeier, recently suggested to public radio station Deutschlandfunk that the end-of-season promotion/relegation playoffs be scrapped if necessary — a scenario the DFL would like to avoid, given that those games attract large TV audiences.
In cases of infection due to “careless breaches of the hygiene concept,” the DFL also warned that such players are still to be considered as “eligible to play,” and that therefore, should their behavior result in their club not being able to field a team, any such match would not be postponed, but simply awarded to the opponent.