Mixing in hotel hallways, sharing food and not always wearing masks were the clear violations of strict Covid-19 isolation protocols in New Zealand that have led to stark warnings that more breaches could see the entire team being sent back. Sarfaraz Ahmed, Rohail Nazir, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Abid Ali and Danish Aziz returned positive Covid-19 tests after landing in New Zealand and the man behind New Zealand's successful quashing of the pandemic has warned further positive tests could emerge.
"Rather than being in their own rooms, which is a requirement for the first three days, there was some mingling in the hallways, chatting, sharing food and not wearing masks," Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the country's director-general of health, told RNZ, New Zealand's public-service radio broadcaster.
"I don't know how many times they did that, but it only needs once for us to take a dim view of it. These players signed up to the arrangements in an undertaking that made what was expected of them very clear. At the moment, they are all required to be in their rooms, which was the requirement anyway. The training exemption would not have kicked in until after we had the results of the day-three testing, if we were happy with the results."
Bloomfield has been credited for leading the Covid-19 elimination strategy that currently sees no community transmission of the virus in New Zealand. He's been widely praised for his measured, mild-mannered approach, becoming a familiar household name while being beamed on to television sets across the nation to deliver regular Covid-19 media briefings, often alongside New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.
As a result of the breaches, the players will not be allowed to begin training today - as was a possibility at the start of the tour - regardless of test results that emerge. The touring party's quarantine period has been reset, meaning they begin 14 days of isolation from Thursday, the date of the breach of regulations. Bloomfield made clear this was not a punishment, but necessary precautionary measures for public health.
"Not being able to train is not a punishment, that was a requirement anyway for the first three days. Looking at Day 3 test results and CCTV footage, we will have to take a judgment on if or when they may be allowed to be exempt from the arrangement everyone else has to undertake, so they're allowed to break off in bubbles and train. I take a dim view of what we've seen already and we'll take it really seriously.
"All six of the positive tests were players, not the other members of their squad. It's possible they could have infected other team members, but the key point is that everyone in the squad is treated as if they may have Covid. At least four of them are acute infection, while the other two may well be historical, but that's being confirmed. That these infections were found on arrival in this country suggests there may be other positive results from the Day 3 test, which we should have today. There's no evidence of interaction with people other than the squad, but the mingling amongst team members was not allowed, and it occurred."
No player returned a positive test before leaving Pakistan. The players were tested on several occasions before flying out though had no restrictions placed on them until November 18, two nights before departure. All members of the travelling party then met at a hotel in Lahore, where they spent two nights in isolation before being tested and flying.
Bloomfield explained those tests served a purpose, but in and of themselves, could not hope to catch all possible cases. "The pre-testing is helpful in that if it identifies anyone at that set point that has Covid, they would not be allowed to travel. It doesn't rule out that people may get infected after the last test but before they board the plane. Not to mention they may have the infection incubating."
The news that players violated health protocols mandated by the New Zealand government has proved particularly uncomfortable for the PCB who, in partnership with New Zealand Cricket, convinced the New Zealand government to make exemptions for the Pakistan side that enabled the tour to go ahead. PCB CEO Wasim Khan, in a voice message directly addressing the players, warned them he had been told in no uncertain terms they would be sent back to Pakistan if any further breaches of the Covid-19 protocols occurred, saying it would be "hugely embarrassing for the country".
The low rate of Covid-19 transmission in New Zealand means the bio-secure bubble need not be maintained following the expiry of the quarantine period. With no active cases outside of borders or isolation facilities, the entire nation is operating under what are known as Level 1 conditions, which effectively mean no restrictions on movement within New Zealand. At one point, the nation went over 100 days without an officially recorded positive Covid-19 case, and a second wave that saw a few hundred further cases was swiftly extinguished.
Pakistan are scheduled to play three T20s and two Test matches against New Zealand, beginning in Auckland on December 18, in just over three weeks' time.