Yaounde — The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has dismissed speculation that the Africa Football Cup of Nations (AFCON), scheduled from January in Cameroon, could be again postponed because of the pandemic.
CAF secretary-general Veron Mosengo-Omba during a visit to Cameroon Wednesday said the spread of the omicron variant could affect the number of fans allowed in stadiums. Nonetheless, he said Cameroon was prepared to host Africa's top football (soccer) tournament.
Omba says the Africa Football Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament will begin in January as planned in Cameroon, despite the COVID pandemic.
Britain's Daily Mail and Mirror newspapers this week speculated that the AFCON tournament, Africa's top soccer contest, might be cancelled amid a fresh wave of global infections fueled by the omicron variant.
Cameroon is expected to welcome thousands of international football fans for the games, which begin January 9 and go through February 6.
Speaking Wednesday during a visit to Cameroon's coastal city Douala, Omba said he was convinced that the host nation was ready to take appropriate measures.
He says Cameroonian authorities have assured the CAF that the spread of COVID-19 will be reduced to a minimum during the football tournament. Omba says the CAF will decide how many spectators will be allowed to attend football matches based on daily COVID-19 reports from Cameroon and the CAF's own health teams.
The AFCON tournament, Africa's most prominent championship, was twice postponed due to construction delays and the pandemic.
Omba said construction had advanced since initial worries that Yaounde's Olembe stadium would not be ready, but it was now on schedule to host the opening and closing matches.
Despite health campaigns, Cameroonian authorities say vaccine hesitancy in the country is still quite high.
Cameroon's ministry of public health says less than four percent of its targeted 16 million people have been vaccinated. Cameroon has about 26 million people.
Director of Cameroon's AFCON tournament Michel Dissake Mbarga says fans will have to present a negative COVID test not older than 24 hours to enter the stadiums, regardless of vaccination status.
"When you are vaccinated you have some sort of advantage, but each time there is a match, only those who are tested negative will have access to the stadiums. The secretary general of CAF assured us that they are going to have [to invite] a particular laboratory from Europe which will help the players tested negative to [get] access to the stadium," he said.
The omicron variant, first reported in South Africa in November, has since been confirmed in scores of countries around the world.
Experts say it appears to spread more easily than other COVID variants, to evade some vaccines, but also to have milder symptoms. The thousands of fans expected to gather in Cameroon's stadiums for the AFCON tournament has also raised safety concerns.
Anglophone separatists in western Cameroon have threatened attacks on two towns with stadiums that will host some of the matches.
Cameroonian authorities, however, have assured football fans and players that AFCON will be safe despite the threats.