Coronavirus vaccinations are not mandatory for the more than one million fans traveling to the World Cup in Qatar this year, the Gulf state said on Thursday.
However, players and match officials could be forced into a safe “bio-bubble” if Covid-19 cases recur, with threats of ejection from the tournament for those violating the safe environment, the Health Ministry said.
The 29-day tournament is the first major global sporting event with fans since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in December 2019, which has since claimed the lives of more than six million people.
Qatari organizers, who have predicted more than a million people will pack Doha for the games, and football’s governing body FIFA have said the event aims to be a sign the world is emerging from the devastating pandemic.
But Qatar’s Ministry of Health warned in its World Cup guidelines that “in the event of a worsening pandemic situation in the country”, special measures would be ordered, for example if a threatening new variant appeared.
As Covid-19 is currently considered under control, “there will be no vaccination requirement for participants and visitors,” the ministry said.
All visitors over the age of six must present negative Covid-19 tests before flying to Qatar for the tournament, which begins on November 20.
Fans will be required to wear masks on public transport, but authorities only recommend mask use at the eight stadiums in the Doha region where matches are played.
Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in Qatar must isolate for five days, the guidelines added.
– biobubble ready –
The organizers and FIFA are most concerned about the first two weeks of the tournament, when four matches a day are scheduled and the peak number of fans from the 32 participating nations will fill stadiums, fan zones and tourist attractions.
Some estimates suggest that as many as 350,000 fans could be in Doha at one time over the weekend of November 26-27.
Officials say Doha Airport and city streets will be at peak pressure this weekend.
Due to accommodation pressures, only fans with tickets will be able to enter Qatar from November 1, although each person with a ticket is allowed to invite three guests.
Each person entering the country must download a special fan pass, Hayya card and Qatar’s anti-Covid health application Ehteraz.
The app must be presented at the entrance of subway stations and most shopping malls.
“If metro stations and malls want to review the app, people need to be prepared for some queues,” said a tourism consultant who advises a major hotel chain in Qatar.
Other measures could also be difficult to enforce because of the shear numbers, experts said.
The ministry recommends a distance of one meter (three feet) between guests in cafes and restaurants.
Almost every team at the World Cup will have players who have refused to be vaccinated, officials conceded.
The English Premier League said this year that 15 per cent of players refused vaccinations.
Qatar’s Health Ministry said it would force players, referees and officials to remain in a safe “bio-bubble” if coronavirus cases did occur “to allow safe operations and the event to continue”.
Hotel rooms, training facilities and transport to and from stadiums would all be locked down.
“Violating the bubble agreement may result in the violator’s immediate dismissal from the event and removal from the event hotel and accommodation,” the ministry said.