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British and Irish Lions tour hit by multiple virus outbreaks

July 7, 2021 GMT
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The British and Irish Lions team train at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (AP Photo)
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The British and Irish Lions team train at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (AP Photo)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The British and Irish Lions’ visit to South Africa was in danger of unraveling Wednesday as the tourists confirmed two COVID-19 cases among their party, on the same day the Springboks canceled their second warmup test against Georgia because of virus outbreaks in both those squads.

The developments underlined fears raised months ago that the tour would coincide with a winter surge in coronavirus infections in South Africa, which is Africa’s worst-affected country. The Johannesburg region, where the Lions and Springboks are based, has been especially hard-hit by the new wave of cases.

A Lions tour game this weekend against the Bulls in Pretoria had already been postponed because of yet another outbreak, this one in the Bulls team.

The Lions’ game on Wednesday night against the Sharks in Johannesburg went ahead after the kickoff was delayed for an hour to allow the tourists to get the results of more virus tests.

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Those checks identified a second positive test and a total of 12 close contacts, resulting in a raft of changes to the team. The Lions were stretched so thin that only one backline player, Finn Russell, was available on the bench.

The Lions didn’t identify the staff member or the player who tested positive.

South Africa said it had canceled its second test against Georgia scheduled for Friday night, also in Johannesburg, after at least a dozen positive virus tests among Springboks players and staff since Monday. They included head coach Jacques Nienaber.

Georgia also had six positive tests in its camp, confirming outbreaks in both teams after they played the first test last Friday in Pretoria.

Another Lions game next Wednesday, against South Africa A in Cape Town, is also in doubt.

The fixture will depend on the extent of the outbreaks in the Lions and Springboks squads. Players for the South Africa A team will be taken from the larger Springboks squad, which is now in isolation in its team hotel.

Anyone who has tested positive or deemed to be a close contact of someone who has tested positive must isolate, and is not allowed to travel for at least 10 days, according to South African government guidelines.

That means South Africa and the Lions may have to leave players and coaching staff behind in isolation in Johannesburg when the tour moves to Cape Town.

“The enlarged Springbok squad’s travel plans are now being reviewed to comply with COVID-19 protocols,” SA Rugby said.

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