New Covid-19 variant threatens Netherlands tour of South Africa, decision by Sunday

Fred Klaassen broke Namibia's dangerous opening stand AFP/Getty Images

Netherlands' ongoing ODI series in South Africa could be cancelled, after a new Covid-19 variant made its presence felt in the country this week*. The first of the three ODIs was underway in Centurion when the two boards announced that an official decision would be taken "in the next 24 to 48 hours".

ESPNcricinfo had initially learnt that the tour was called off on Friday but it emerged that the Netherlands team cannot get a flight out of South Africa before December 3, which prompted further discussions to continue the series.

"Both boards can confirm that following updated information, it is highly unlikely that the visiting team will be able to fly out of South Africa over the weekend," an official statement said. "The KNCB is reviewing all of its options, while prioritising the physical and mental well-being of its players.

"A decision on the continuation of the series will follow in the next 24 to 48 hours, while all flight options are being considered."

South Africa has been added to the UK's red list and travel restrictions from Italy, Germany and Singapore are in place, with other countries expected to follow, and while there is no official update yet, South Africa's home international schedule - for men and women - could well be disrupted in a big way.

The fourth wave of the pandemic is expected to peak in South Africa in the next few weeks and will coincide with a packed summer schedule. The Indian men's team, which refused to play a Test in Manchester earlier this year because of Covid-19-related fears, is due to play three Tests, three ODIs and four T20Is from mid-December - they are scheduled to leave India on December 8 - while the West Indies women's team will tour the country in January ahead of the Women's World Cup.

The Indian men's 'A' team is also currently in South Africa, playing the first four-day game in Bloemfontein. They are scheduled to play two more four-day games on the tour.

Reuters reported that the Indian government has issued an advisory to all the states in the country to rigorously test and screen international travellers from South Africa and other countries that are considered at-risk. The report quoted the Indian health ministry as saying that the new variant, identified as B.1.1.529, had "serious public health implications".

An unnamed BCCI official, meanwhile, was quoted by PTI as saying, "Look, till we get a detailed picture of the ground situation from Cricket South Africa, we will not be able to tell our next step. As per the current plan, the Indian team is supposed to leave either on December 8 or 9 just after the New Zealand series gets over in Mumbai."

The official indicated that even though players will be sent on a charter flight from Mumbai to Johannesburg, there is a possibility of putting them through three-four days of hard quarantine upon reaching given the changed circumstances.

An official travelling with the 'A' team was also quoted by PTI as saying, "After the outbreak, a medical team from Cricket South Africa had a meeting with our representatives over here. We were told that there is nothing to worry since the spike in cases is far away from Bloemfontein where we would be playing our next match too."

The new Covid-19 variant has more mutations but it is not known whether it causes more severe illnesses than the Delta variant. South African scientists will meet with the World Health Organisation in an effort to find out more. Cases in South Africa have risen three-fold in the last week.

Top-level cricket in South Africa was disrupted in a big way because of the pandemic last year too: England abandoned a tour without playing the ODI series after positive cases in the South African camp and Australia did not travel to play a three-match Test series, costing CSA millions.

*1345hrs GMT: The story was updated after an official statement