ESSENDON could be forced to play next week's clash against Carlton without a significant portion of its playing list, as the AFL continues to investigate which Bombers have been in close contact with Conor McKenna.
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has advised the AFL that any Essendon player who has been in close contact with McKenna must self-isolate for the next 14 days.
However, the AFL remains adamant fixtures will continue so long as the Bombers have enough available players to field a side for their next scheduled match against the Blues on Saturday night.
"Ultimately, the AFL rules are pretty clear on this," the AFL's general counsel Andrew Dillon told radio station 3AW.
"Leaving coronavirus out of this, as long as you have got 22 players and a couple of emergencies then you are able to field a team.
"So, as far as the AFL rules go – as long as they've got enough players to field a team and a couple of emergencies – then we're ready to play."
McKenna became the first AFL player to test positive for the COVID-19 virus over the weekend, with the League quickly moving to postpone his side's Sunday clash with the Demons at the MCG.
The AFL said on Saturday that it would lean on DHHS advice before navigating its next steps and is currently poring through vision of McKenna's last training session with teammates on Friday to identify who the Irishman had been in close contact with.
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"There is a definition for close contact and it's if you are face-to-face with someone for more than 15 minutes or in a confined space for more than two hours," Dillon said.
"What we are doing with Essendon and also working with (the DHHS) on is then saying, 'how does that definition apply in an Essendon training circumstance?'
"We are putting that broad definition across what's actually happened. We're working through with (the DHHS) and Essendon at the moment to determine who will be a close contact and who might not be a close contact."
Investigations into who has been in close contact with McKenna continue, with a number of key Essendon players now at risk of being unavailable to face Carlton depending on the outcome.
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However, Dillon dismissed potential issues with fairness should a number of Bombers players be forced to isolate for the next fortnight.
"The first thing we'll do is apply the rules as they stand," Dillon later told radio station ABC Perth.
"You look at Richmond last year, where they had a string of games where they had seven of their best eight players not playing. No one ever even contemplated that those games wouldn't go ahead.
"This is why season 2020 will be a season like no other.
The DHHS had earlier announced on Sunday morning that it would advise the AFL that any Essendon player who had been in close contact with McKenna should quarantine for the next two weeks.
"The AFL has already got an existing protocol that minimises the close contacts that any one player will have and they'll implement that accordingly," Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton said.
"The DHHS advice will be to quarantine all of those identified close contacts for two weeks from the time of exposure."
Timeline on McKenna:— Mitch Cleary (@cleary_mitch) June 20, 2020
- Tested Wed
- Result back Fri am - negative
- Completed main contact training Fri am
- Tested on Fri pm
- Arrived at club today am
- Informed 15-20mins after arrival that Fri test was ‘irregular’ and not to train
- Tested again
- Result today pm - positive
Sutton also said that Essendon's next series of fixtures would be dependent on how many players the club had available, pending the outcome of its investigations into McKenna's close contacts.
"It really depends on them (Essendon) and what they can manage operationally," Sutton said.
"If that individual has trained with a number of people and has 'knocked out' – by virtue of close contacts needing quarantine – such a number that they won't be able to play, then that's how they'll have to proceed.
"But if they can manage with the existing playing list, minus those close contacts, then they will proceed."
Essendon is currently slated to face arch rivals Carlton (Saturday, June 27) and Collingwood (Friday, July 3) over the next fortnight, with both matches at risk of being impacted as a result of McKenna's positive test over the weekend.
Its postponed fixture against Melbourne will now be moved to an unconfirmed date in the future.