Tony Garbelotto is closer than most to the source of the pandemic that’s put the planet on lockdown.

Except in Japan, where he has spent the past six months coaching, they’d sensed the country had emerged out onto the other side of the Covid-19 outbreak

“I might be in one of the most normal places in the world right now,” the former Great Britain head coach said.

“We didn’t have social distancing. Nothing closed. Japan got out early on this thing. Schools were closed. It freaked a lot of people out but you didn’t have many infections.”

But as the UK continues to focus on the once-unknown concept of ‘flattening the curve’ in the cases of coronavirus, experts have warned that eventually ending the state of quarantine too soon could bring the threat of a second wave of infections.

Japan – with an incredibly low tally of 63 deaths based on early prevention and a speedy ban on large gatherings – is now feeling that burn. From normalcy, it has retreated into the same kind of drastic measures imposed anywhere else.

“Even over the last few weeks, people were out at supermarkets and department stores,” Garbelotto recounts. “Restaurants were full.

“But then you had a very famous comedian die and one of the top baseball players contracted the virus. Cases have gone up. So people have got worried again.”

A reality check which has brought, of course, the decision to push the Tokyo 2020 Olympics back by 12 months. And Japanese basketball, where the 51-year-old is in charge of the B-League’s Ibaraki Robots, has opted to terminate its campaign after flipping and flopping over playing on.

“We had played 45 games when the first cases came in Japan,” he confirmed. “We had just got beaten by the top team in our league and then we went to the next practice and then they decided to suspend games along with football and baseball.

“They decided to set a date to restart on 30 March and then to reschedule games.

“The funny thing is we ended up playing a game behind closed doors, which wasn’t as bizarre as I thought it would be. It was just like a pre-season scrimmage.

“But we did have some imports in our league who refused to stay. Hokkaido had players ill and then refs got sick. So they suspended the league again. We were told to stay ready for the playoffs but then they had an Extraordinary General Meeting and cancelled the season.”

Garbelotto has remained to tidy up loose ends while his wife and daughter are at home in Manchester. The separation, as the UK approaches the presumed peak of the viral spread, is undoubtedly tough.

International travel restrictions mean there is little he can do, for now.

“I’m watching Sky News for 4-5 hours every day,” he said. “I’m certainly worried about back home but I don’t know even know if I could get back right now.”

It is not an unfamiliar tale of isolation within a sport that propels players and coaches around the world.

Rob Beveridge, who succeeded Garbelotto in charge of Scotland in 2018, is stranded in New Zealand after taking a job there which evaporated without him overseeing even one game.

The Aussie, who guided the Scots to fourth place at the Commonwealth Games, signed a deal with Southland Sharks last month following his exit from Illawara Hawks at the end of last season.

But he has now been left in limbo with the NZ Basketball League called off and Australia banning anyone from coming into the country, leaving him facing a seven-week spell in a personal lockdown.

“I had to do 14 days of self isolation when I arrived in New Zealand but now that the country is in complete lockdown for at least four weeks I continue to be in isolation,” he revealed.

“The New Zealand Prime Minister yesterday announced that they will try and repatriate all foreigners so I may be able to get back to Oz next week if I can get on a flight.

“Then I will have to do another two weeks of isolation in a hotel in Sydney before going home.”

Photo: MAP

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