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England squad cleared to fly home after confirmation of false positives

Independent analysis confirms all members of touring party are Covid-negative

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
The locked gates at Newlands after England's ODI series against South Africa was postponed, England tour of South Africa, December 7, 2020

The locked gates at Newlands after England's ODI series against South Africa was postponed  •  Getty Images

England have announced that the two suspected cases of Covid-19 within their touring party were false positives, following independent ratification of the tests.
The ECB revealed on Sunday that a full round of tests had returned "unconfirmed positive" results for two members of the touring group, understood to be a player and a member of support staff.
Neither displayed any symptoms, raising the possibility that they had received false positives, and after further analysis of the results in both Cape Town and London, Professor Nick Peirce, the ECB's chief medical officer, issued a statement to say that neither individual was Covid-positive.
"Following the independent ratification of the two unconfirmed positive Covid-19 tests from the England camp in South Africa, the England and Wales Cricket Board can confirm that, following further testing and analysis, in the opinion of the independent virologists based in Cape Town and London, the two individuals are not infected, and do not pose any risk of passing on the infection to the rest of the party," the statement said.
"As such, the advice is they are now free to join the rest of the group and are no longer self-isolating."
Ashley Giles, the ECB director of men's cricket, and medical staff would have been among those to stay behind in South Africa until December 15 if the individuals had been confirmed as positive. Instead, they will be free to fly home on Thursday on the team's chartered flight.
Sam Billings, Lewis Gregory, Liam Livingstone and Jason Roy will all travel to Australia to begin a 14-day quarantine period ahead of the Big Bash League, while it is understood that Jake Ball may join them after being sounded out as a possible replacement for Tom Curran at the Sydney Sixers.
Meanwhile, the South African player who tested positive before the ODI series - understood to be Heinrich Klaasen, who also missed the third T20I - has returned home to Johannesburg after returning a negative test on Monday.
Confirmation that the players were not infected with Covid-19 came less than 24 hours after the tour's abandonment, with the chief executives of both CSA and ECB citing player welfare in the decision to postpone the three-match ODI series indefinitely.
Giles told British newspapers in Cape Town last night that the call had been taken in recognition of the fact that the squad felt distracted and had been unsettled by news of the initial positive results.
"These guys have been living in bubbles for long periods of time and their mental health and wellbeing is the absolute priority for us," he said. "I think we felt ultimately focusing on a game of cricket, and trying to squeeze two games into two days when this had been going on in the background, was going to be particularly difficult and we were better off calling it and looking to re-arrange these fixtures at a better time."
Giles had also confirmed the England camp's doubts about the efficacy of CSA's Covid protocols, though news that nobody in the touring party was infected with the virus will be reassuring for the home board ahead of scheduled series against Sri Lanka, Australia and Pakistan later this season.
"I think the thing that really raised the levels of anxiety and nervousness were that we were coming into a biosecure environment and from very early on it appeared that it wasn't biosecure," Giles said. "I think the South African [team] doctor has said he could understand our nervousness because of that.
"In future, perhaps we can never guarantee a place is biosecure. Maybe we have to adapt but that is the environment we expected when we came here."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98