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Virus wrecks England tour to SA: 1 game off, 1 postponed

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The first one-day international between South Africa and England was cancelled Sunday and the second game postponed after two members of the England touring party returned “unconfirmed positive tests" for COVID-19 following an outbreak at the Cape Town hotel where both teams are staying.

The England and Wales Cricket Board announced the test results but did not name the people who had tested positive, or say if they were players or members of the backroom staff. The ECB said it would now have those unconfirmed positive tests “ratified independently by medical experts.”

The two positives came after an additional round of testing on England players and officials on Saturday night. Those extra tests were sparked by news that two staff members at the Cape Town hotel used by both teams, and which is meant to be a bio-secure environment, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The development has ruined England's tour, which had already been under scrutiny after three South African players tested positive for COVID-19. The teams played a three-game Twenty20 series before the ODIs.

The first ODI in the nearby city of Paarl was initially delayed less than an hour before the start Sunday. It was then cancelled. It had already been postponed from Friday after news of the third South African player testing positive.

The re-arranged schedule because of that first postponement meant the second ODI was shifted to Monday. That second game was then postponed without any new date later Sunday as England waited for the positive test results in its group to be confirmed.

In a joint statement, the ECB and Cricket South Africa said they would “discuss how best to proceed concerning the remaining two matches of this ODI series” once they had verification of the test results.

England players and management were self-isolating in their hotel rooms until further advice from medical teams, the ECB said.

England's team was due to return home on Thursday but that might even be in doubt now if players and officials are forced into a mandatory quarantine period in South Africa.

Despite diplomatic public statements from the ECB, the situation is highly embarrassing for Cricket South Africa and the authorities responsible for keeping the bio-bubble at the hotel secure.

Two of the South African players tested positive ahead of the T20 series, which still went ahead despite concerns. England won that series 3-0. The latest positive test in the South African team led to CSA launching an investigation last week into how the player became infected in the bio-bubble at the hotel in the lush Cape Town suburbs near the Newlands cricket ground. Then, CSA conceded that England had a right to be concerned with the COVID-19 protocols at the hotel.

Sunday's news regarding more cases among hotel staff and possibly England touring party members indicated attempts to keep both teams secure had failed.

“We are deeply regretful of the situation we find ourselves in after the amount of time and energy that has been put in place to host a successful tour,” CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith said. “We are in continuous talks with the ECB as we navigate the situation under the guidance of our combined medical teams.”

In a statement, the hotel said it was investigating how its two staff members became infected. They had been living on the premises in the bio-bubble and hadn't left the hotel since Nov. 16, the hotel said.

All the England players and officials now face possible extra quarantine requirements before they are re-united with their families before Christmas. South African regulations require anyone who has tested positive for the coronavirus or been in close contact with someone with the virus to quarantine for 14 days. The ODI series was meant to end on Wednesday, with England leaving the day after on a chartered plane to London.

England’s six-game limited-overs tour was organized at short notice to fill gaps in both teams’ schedules created by the virus pandemic, but is turning out to be an unforeseen misadventure. It has coincided with South Africa, once one of the worst-affected countries in the world, seeing signs of a second surge of the virus.

All six games were to be played in Cape Town and Paarl to limit travel for players and officials but it's one of the regions in South Africa that’s now seeing an increase in virus cases.


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Gerald Imray, The Associated Press

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