England players exempt from quarantine, in spite of South Africa Covid mutation

ECB respond to latest government advice after update from health secretary

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Positive Covid-19 tests among staff in the teams' hotel caused the first ODI to be abandoned again, South Africa vs England, Boland Park, December 6, 2020

England's white-ball tour of South Africa was abandoned ahead of the ODIs  •  Getty Images

England's tour of Sri Lanka is still scheduled to proceed as planned on January 2, according to the ECB, in spite of the UK government requiring any person who has been in South Africa in the past fortnight to quarantine immediately, due to the discovery of a new mutation of the Covid-19 virus.
England's white-ball squad returned from South Africa on December 10, just under a fortnight ago, following the abandonment of the three-match ODI leg of the series, due to concerns about the bio-security of the team hotel in Cape Town.
And those squad members were briefly made to fear that they would have to quarantine over Christmas and New Year, when the UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced during a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday afternoon that a new variation of Covid-19 had been identified in the country, linked to two recent arrivals from South Africa.
"Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks," Hancock said. "We are incredibly grateful to the South African government for the rigour of their science and the openness and the transparency with which they have rightly acted as we did when we discovered a new variant here."
However, the ECB clarified in a statement that the measures taken to protect the players from infection, both during and since the South Africa tour, would exempt them from quarantine.
"The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) can confirm that those team members and support staff who returned on 10 December from South Africa, as part of England men's white-ball tour, have been following the Elite Sports International guidance concerning activity in the UK," the ECB said. "During this period, they have undergone on-going symptom and testing checks and will not need to quarantine."
Question marks still remain about the viability of the Sri Lanka tour, which was rescheduled following the postponement of their original trip in March. Earlier this week, several countries, including Sri Lanka, suspended travel from the UK following the identification of a separate Covid mutation, which is thought to be up to 70% more transmissable.
However, ESPNcricinfo understands that Sri Lanka Cricket, whose players are currently in South Africa preparing for a two-Test series beginning at Centurion on Boxing Day, are not unduly concerned at this stage about the implications of the new mutations. SLC medical staff have been in contact with their counterparts at the ECB, and are satisfied that the teams' bio-secure bubble is robust.
"I don't think we should [look at the new strain as something that jeopardises the tour]," said Dr Daminda Attanayake, the Sri Lankan team's physician, in response to the UK mutation of the virus. "Yes, anxiety is high at this stage from everybody. But when you look at the scientific evidence, I don't think we should stop it. We might have to take extra precautions, but we don't need to stop the tour."
England travelled to and from South Africa on a charter flight, and have similar arrangements in place for their flight to Hambantota on January 2 - where they will undergo 10 days of isolation before moving on to Galle for the first Test on January 14. As such, they are exempt from the arrangements outlined by the health secretary.
"Regarding the England men's Test squad and support staff, they will continue to prepare as normal ahead of the Sri Lanka Test tour. The touring party is due to leave on 2 January 2021. The ECB will continue to monitor the on-going situation in respect of international travel and working closely with Sri Lanka Cricket."
England players and staff bound for Sri Lanka next week have been made aware of their responsibilities during the Christmas break. However, it is understood that those in tier 1, 2 or 3 regions are not being instructed to avoid seeing family members.
Earlier this week, it was announced that the former South Africa batsman Jacques Kallis would be joining England's Test team in Sri Lanka as a batting coaching consultant.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket