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Chess players withdraw from Grand Swiss amid Latvia Covid-19 lockdown

By Ben Morse, CNN

Some of the world’s leading chess players have withdrawn from next week’s Grand Swiss tournament in Riga, Latvia, citing health concerns after the country entered into a four-week long lockdown due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

From Thursday, October 21 until November 14, a curfew will be in place from 8 p.m and 5 a.m., non-essential shops will remain closed and stores providing essential goods will be open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.

The country has been struggling with the spike of Covid-19 cases and low vaccination rates since the beginning of October. On October 11 a three-month emergency situation was declared by the government to stop the spread of the infection and to ease the pressure on the health care system.

However, a statement released by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) announced that the Grand Swiss and Women’s Grand Swiss tournaments have been permitted to go ahead by the Latvian government after it approved international top-level sports events to be held during the month-long lockdown.

This list includes a total of 30 events, including the Grand Swiss, the Tal Memorial — another chess tournament in honor of the legendary Latvian player Mikhail Tal — and basketball events.

The Grand Swiss will implement a number of restrictions given the high incidence rate of Covid-19 in Latvia. It will be closed to the public, with only a few accredited journalists permitted.

“Breaking the rules of the Protocol may lead to disqualification of a player or even termination of the Tournament,” the FIDE statement said.

Despite FIDE ensuring that they are attempting to “host the event in Riga in a secure and still comfortable way,” some high-profile players have withdrawn citing health concerns.

As many as 114 players from 39 federations had initially qualified to appear at the Grand Swiss, with 50 women players from 26 federations qualifying for the inaugural Women’s Grand Swiss.

However, American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura won’t be there.

Ranked 19th in the world, Nakamura said on Twitter: “If there is indeed a hard lockdown in Latvia starting in a few days, out of respect for Latvians suffering with Covid and for the health and safety of myself and my trainer, I will not be competing in the Grand Swiss chess tournament in Riga.”

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Indian grandmaster Vidit Gujrathi tweeted on Wednesday that he felt “hesitant to travel to Latvia” due to the lockdown restrictions, also asking whether any of his “fellow colleagues share similar concerns.”

Gujrathi has subsequently tweeted saying had decided against playing in the tournament.

“After contemplating on the current situation in Latvia for the past few days, I have decided to withdraw from the tournament. There is a lot of uncertainty & health is the first priority. I hope that Latvia overcomes this wave soon.”

On Thursday, the Press Secretary of the Latvia Cabinet of Ministers said the incidence of the virus has risen by a staggering 48.8% over the past week, in a statement to CNN.

The 14-day cumulative number of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population reached 1,400 on October 20, the press release added, making it the highest incidence rate in the world.

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Niamh Kennedy and Sharon Braithwaite contributed to this report.

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