Two members of the England touring party in South Africa have returned “unconfirmed positive tests” for COVID-19, the England and Wales Cricket Board said Sunday as the first one-day international was canceled because of a virus outbreak at the hotel where both teams are staying.
The ECB did not release any names and didn’t say if the two members were players or management.
The two positive tests 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 COVID-19.
England players and management were self-isolating in their hotel rooms until further advice from medical teams, the ECB said, and there would be more tests by independent medical experts to confirm the findings.
Three South African players have also tested positive during the tour, two of them after entering the “bio-bubble” at the hotel, where movement in and out is restricted. It’s unclear if the remaining two ODIs will go ahead with England due to return home on Thursday.
The first ODI was already postponed from Friday after the most recent South African player tested positive for COVID-19 in the hours before that game was meant to start. None of the South African players to test positive have been named.
A decision on the remaining matches in the series will be taken once the results of the tests on England party members are “ratified independently by medical experts,” the ECB said.
“We regret that we are unable to play in today’s ODI,” England men’s cricket managing director Ashley Giles said, “but the welfare of the players and support staff is our primary concern and whilst we await the results of further tests the medical advice from both teams was that this game should not take place.
“We remain in constant dialogue with Cricket South Africa and will continue to work closely with them to determine how best to move forward.”
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 South African players tested positive ahead of the three-game Twenty20 series, which still went ahead despite concerns. England won that series 3-0.
The latest positive test in the South African team had led to CSA launching an investigation into how he became infected in the bio-bubble. CSA had also conceded Friday that England had a right to be concerned with the COVID-19 protocols at the hotel.
Sunday’s news that hotel staff and possibly England touring party members were also now infected illustrated how 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 November 16, the hotel said. They worked in different parts of the hotel.
The staff members and the latest South African player to contract COVID-19 were “isolated in on-site apartments some distance from the hotel,” the hotel management said.
All the England players and officials now face possible extra quarantine requirements before they are re-united with their families before Christmas.
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 coronavirus pandemic. But 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 nearby 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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