James Stewart. Picture: Michael Klein
James Stewart. Picture: Michael Klein

Bomber sets sights on early isolation exit

ESSENDON forward James Stewart is hopeful health authorities could release him from quarantine before next Friday if he does not contract COVID-19.

Stewart, 26, received a phone call at 9am on Tuesday morning alerting him that he must stay in isolation after being identified as the only "close contact" of teammate Conor McKenna.

"He has passed the incubation period and still is negative," Stewart's manager, Peter Jess, said.

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"He tested prior to that as negative and he has another test on Wednesday, which we think will be negative."

Stewart lives by himself and has been isolating since Saturday.

The Bombers will check with Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services to see if they can safely courier some training equipment to McKenna and Stewart while they remain housebound.

The club will also tap into its two player welfare officers, sports psychologist, mental skills coach and club doctor to help McKenna and Stewart through this challenging time.

"We've spoken at length to the AFL and the club and the process is to get him back next Friday, if not before," Jess said.

"If he continues to test negative we will consider seeing if he can come back earlier than the 14 days.

"We're not sure on what basis the health department made the call, and how they made the call, but James simply has taken the step that he needs to refocus and follow all the protocols.

James Stewart is in lockdown. Picture: Michael Klein
James Stewart is in lockdown. Picture: Michael Klein

"I'm sure he'll be the scrabble champion of Essendon."

The Bombers handed over a floorplan of their Tullamarine facility, meeting schedules, the structure of their meetings and training summaries to DHHS.

They also gave up "intimate details" of last week's drills and skills sessions.

But DHHS was primarily interested in footage from Friday's full contact training session - and not McKenna's small training group - in a sign Essendon adhered perfectly to the AFL's strict protocols.

Stewart was nabbed because he was McKenna's wrestling partner on Friday.

Bombers chief executive Xavier Campbell said DHHS defined "close contact" of a coronavirus patient as being within 1.5m for a cumulative amount of 15 minutes or spending two hours in a confined space.

Campbell said the Bombers would discuss whether to stick with position-based training groups or scatter their lines, as the AFL encouraged clubs to do.

St Kilda has, on the back of Essendon's scare, mixed up its training groups.

James Stewart celebrates a goal for the Bombers in 2018. Picture: Getty Images
James Stewart celebrates a goal for the Bombers in 2018. Picture: Getty Images

"There's a risk profile you need to balance out with a performance element," Campbell said.

"Clearly for the competition now and for us that risk profile has increased dramatically, and that will trigger a review of how we do things."

Campbell said "performance will take a backward step" for McKenna and Stewart.

"In the context of this situation; when it took place, the timing of the week, there was probably an element of luck for us in the sense we'd had a contact session, but the protocols that had been delivered in a pretty firm way were robust," Campbell said.

"It really only came down to the on-field session that was, from a DHHS perspective, of the most interest.

"The overall feeling is somewhat bittersweet as well, because you've got two players who are clearly impacted by it.

"Particularly for James who, through no fault of his own, finds himself in the position that now he's got to go into quarantine having been identified as a close contact."

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