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Test match continues despite four Covid cases emerging in England touring party

Play was delayed by 30 minutes after two members of England support staff and two family members returned positive Covid tests

Alex Malcolm
The England players arrive at the ground after a Covid scare  •  Getty Images

The England players arrive at the ground after a Covid scare  •  Getty Images

Two members of England's support staff and two family members of the support staff returned positive Covid-19 rapid antigen tests before play on day two of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. The match has continued as scheduled after all the players tested negative with rapid tests although there are now questions about how the series might play out from here.
Play was delayed by 30 minutes when the England team was delayed arriving at the ground due to the entire squad needing to be tested following the positive cases. There will be a full round of PCR tests on the England touring squad later on Monday while extra precautions will be taken during play.
"Cricket Australia has been informed that two members of the England cricket team's support staff and two of their family members have returned a positive Covid-19 Rapid Antigen Test," a CA statement said.
"The affected individuals are currently isolating. The entire playing group and all other support staff have undertaken Rapid Antigen Tests this morning and all have tested negative. The England cricket team will also have PCR tests today, and both teams will take extra precautions throughout play. Both playing squads remain unchanged.
"There is currently no further impact on fans or other parts of the venue. Cricket Australia and the MCC will continue to monitor the situation and follow the endorsed Victorian Government Covid-Safe Event Plan."
Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley spoke shortly after play began on day two and was confident the game and the series could continue.
"They'll go undergo PCR tests," Hockley said. "We'll work on the basis of all the available information that we have. But certainly the medical advisers, on the basis of this morning's precaution, they felt it appropriate to continue with the match."
New South Wales recorded 6,324 new Covid cases on Monday from 97,241 tests on Boxing Day. Hockley was confident the fourth Test in Sydney, starting on January 5, was not in danger despite the higher case numbers there.
"No, I don't think so," Hockley said. "I think we've shown that we've got great confidence in the protocols. They are increasing case numbers in New South Wales and in Sydney. We've got an exclusive property for the playing group. We are flying there by charter. This is something that we're all having to live with. So again, [we're] just extremely appreciative to the medical staff, both squads, both sets of playing groups for adhering to the protocols which are designed to keep everybody safe."
The players eventually arrived and began their warm-up in dribs and drabs but did stand in a semi-socially distanced huddle in the middle at one point. The Australians were unaffected having arrived at the ground at their normal time and begun their warm-ups in the nets.
The Victoria government announced there were 1999 new positive Covid cases from 57,818 statewide tests done on Boxing Day. But the rules in Victoria are different to what was experienced in South Australia when Pat Cummins was ruled out of the second Test in Adelaide due to being a close contact of a Covid case on the eve of the Test match. Despite returning negative tests Cummins was forced to isolate for seven days due to the rules set out by the SA health department. In Melbourne, close contacts only have to isolate until returning a negative test.
Meanwhile, Australian television broadcaster Channel Seven had to completely replace their commentary team on day two in Melbourne after it was confirmed that one of their team had returned a positive Covid test. Seven Network Head of Sport Lewis Martin confirmed that the main commentary team, which includes Ricky Ponting and Sir Ian Botham are isolating and would not be part of the broadcast until they return negative PCR tests. Seven's BBL commentary team have stepped in to fill the breach.
"The Seven Network confirms it is responding after a member of staff working on the Ashes broadcast at the MCG tested positive to Covid-19 on Sunday night," Martin said. "The staff member was asymptomatic at the time of testing and has been in self-isolation since the moment the positive result was returned.
"Seven is activating its Covid measures to ensure the health and safety of all staff, as well as the broader community, and is working in line with all relevant guidelines and regulations. We are working closely with the MCG operational team and Cricket Australia.
"Just as the broader community is experiencing, we have Covid response scenarios in place to ensure the impact on Seven's broadcast is limited."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo