United’s weekend rugby league matches in South Africa, including the Monster match against the Bulls, are due to be postponed following the outbreak of the new Covid-19 virus.
Monster has found itself at the worrying epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa, with the vast majority of 2,465 new Covid-19 detected in South Africa on Thursday.
Both Welsh teams who have been in South Africa, Scarletts and Cardiff, have confirmed they are already seeking routes out of the country as new travel bans remain in place.
It is believed that Monster – as well as the Italian side Zebre – are also currently working on their own contingency plans for their exit from South Africa, as the country has already been placed on the UK’s travel red list.
The World Health Organization is currently holding an expert meeting from Geneva at 11am (Irish time) on Friday to assess the new Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529 amid growing concerns that it may be the most dangerous «super variant» yet.
The Monster match became even more doubtful on Friday as the noon deadline for team announcements passed without any word from the competition organisers.
All four games scheduled in South Africa are set to be canceled this weekend after the new alternative was revealed, with the resultant travel restrictions being imposed and the return of a mandatory hotel quarantine upon arrival in Ireland.
There are still no travel restrictions for EU nationals, and the latest official Monster statement on Friday morning read: «We are all well and well in Pretoria. We are working with the URC on the ongoing situation related to Covid-19 and will provide an update as soon as more is known.»
The UK announced on Thursday night that travelers from South Africa and neighboring countries would be barred from entering England, while Israel, Germany, Singapore and Japan have since followed suit, imposing travel bans and flight restrictions on South Africa.
In terms of the impact on United’s rugby tournament, the dramatic turn of events has left teams scrambling to clarify the situation, and to hastily organize flights from South Africa as needed.
Monster were due to play the Bulls on Saturday, but the Pretoria-based team postponed Friday’s team announcement press conference, as did the Sharks and Stormers.
It is a sure sign of the uncertainty facing the tournament, and it is now expected that it will only be a matter of time before an official announcement is made confirming that the two rounds of matches in South Africa will not go ahead as planned. It looks like it could be rescheduled for a date within the Six Nations next year.
This weekend, Zebre was also scheduled to play the Stormers, Scarlets were in line to face the Sharks, while Cardiff in Johannesburg geared up to face the Lions on Sunday.
A Monster vs. Bulls match was scheduled to be followed by a clash against the Lions next weekend, while they are scheduled to play a European Champions Cup match against the Wasps in Coventry on December 12.
Scarletts issued a statement Thursday night saying they are «doing everything they can to bring the tour party back to the UK as soon as possible», while Cardiff Blues are making similar arrangements to return to Wales in order to avoid a mandatory second-week quarantine that will come into effect in the UK from from Sunday. Failure to do so could mean that their team will not be able to meet the European matches with the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup scheduled to start on the weekend of December 10-12.
Specifically in Gauteng, as of Thursday night, the 1,950 new cases represented the largest one-day increase since August 13, with 707 patients hospitalized and 55 in the intensive care unit.
Ironically, the two rounds of matches in South Africa were originally scheduled to take place in Italy due to Covid issues, but were then brought back once the country was taken off the UK’s travel red list in October.
This weekend is also set to mark the first time fans have been allowed back into South African rugby stadiums for such a high-profile group of matches, albeit with a crowd limit of no more than 2,000.
In golf, four Irish golfers were among the 16 who withdrew from the Joburg Open, the inaugural event of the DP World Tour (renamed from the European Tour). Jonathan Caldwell, Niall Kearney, Paul Dunn and Cormac Sharvin are seeking to leave the country amid the new outbreak.
Cricket Ireland has said it is in discussions with the International Cricket Council and the government about the Women’s World Cup qualifiers currently being held in Zimbabwe.
The Irish national team is currently in Harare and has played two matches in the tournament’s group stage, with their next match scheduled for Monday. After yesterday’s victory over the Netherlands, the team will likely advance to the Super 6 round, with matches currently scheduled for December 1, 3 and 5.
Warren Deuterome, CEO of Cricket Ireland, said: “We are very concerned about the latest developments regarding the new type of Covid being reported in South Africa as we currently have a Zimbabwean women’s team playing in the World Cup qualifiers.
“While the circumstances regarding travel restrictions and health advice are on the move, we have been in close contact with the ICC, the Irish government and sporting bodies in both jurisdictions to better understand the facts, and to inform and reassure the squad leadership.
“Our decision-making will primarily depend on the health and safety of the players and support staff. We will provide updates as soon as possible.”
«Lector profesional. Jugador galardonado. Aficionado a los zombis. Adicto a las redes sociales. Experto en tocino. Erudito en Internet»