Two members of England’s touring party in South Africa who returned “unconfirmed positives” for Covid-19 over the weekend have been given the all-clear after independent analysis of follow-up tests.
The news confirms England’s initial belief that the pair, understood to be one player and one of the backroom team, had received ‘false positives’ and means they will no longer be obliged to observe a 10-day hotel quarantine in Cape Town.
England’s medical staff, led on the ground by Dr Moiz Moghal, had spotted anomalies in some of the data and arranged for rapid response screening as well as a second, more sophisticated PCR test, for the individuals.
Both of those came back negative and, following independent assessment of results, the duo were removed from isolation at the Vineyard Hotel, rejoining the remainder of the squad ahead of the planned departure on Thursday.
The England and Wales Cricket Board’s chief medical officer, Professor Nick Peirce, oversaw the situation remotely and issued a statement.
It read: “Following the independent ratification of the two unconfirmed positive Covid-19 tests from the England camp in South Africa, the ECB 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.
“As such, the advice is they are now free to join the rest of the group and are no longer self-isolating.”
The negative tests may lead to questions over whether the one-day series, which was officially abandoned following talks between the respective boards on Monday, could have gone ahead.
But England made it clear that events of recent days, which also saw the South Africa side record their third positive result of the trip as well as two cases among venue staff – one of whom had worked in close proximity to the touring party – had undermined confidence in the environment.
Ultimately, with no appetite to delay the fixed departure on Thursday, the latest news left only one day theoretically open for competitive cricket. Instead, the two countries have agreed to try and rearrange the full three-match series, an optimistic aim given the packed international schedule awaiting in 2021.
Managing director of England men’s cricket Ashley Giles has been present throughout the trip and spoke of an increasing sense of alarm and “anxiety” among the group. The word coming out of camp is that fears over the integrity of the ‘bio-secure bubble’ had overshadowed any possible preparations to play.
Giles had also vowed to remain in South Africa alongside anyone who was required to quarantine, though that is no longer necessary.
The majority of the party will head back to England for Christmas at home, while Jason Roy, Sam Billings, Lewis Gregory, Liam Livingstone and Jake Ball transit separately to Australia for the Big Bash League.
The quintet will face 14 days of quarantine before being allowed to play for their respective franchises.
Among those heading back, thoughts will quickly turn to the planned departure for Sri Lanka on January 2. Given their experiences over the past three weeks there are plenty of discussions to have over what provisions will be made for touring times on the island, with the ECB in regular contact with Sri Lanka Cricket over arrangements.
Giles has also suggested there will be an element of “mental health screening” offered to those selected.
Speaking after Monday’s postponement he said: “These are very difficult environments, you are away for long periods and it is tough for everyone. These guys have been living in bubbles for long periods of time and their mental health and well-being is the absolute priority for us.
“All of us want this period to be over sooner rather than later. In the meantime, post-Christmas we are going to have to manage our bubbles well and manage our people really well.
“In future perhaps can we ever guarantee a place is bio-secure? Maybe we have to adapt and maybe that isn’t going to be realistic.”
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