Virus cases in team Lions due to play in SA tour opener

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South African rugby canceled Friday a PRO14 game after a coronavirus outbreak in the team the British and Irish Lions are due to play in three weeks time to open their tour.

The game between the Johannesburg-based team, also called the Lions, and the Stormers in Cape Town this weekend was called off after advice from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and “to limit the risk of further infection in the rugby community,” SA Rugby said.

The decision came after a number of positive virus tests in the Johannesburg-based Lions squad. SA Rugby didn’t name any players or say how many players tested positive. It said the team had “followed all protocols” in trying to guard against infections.

The risk of the Lions’ game against the British and Irish Lions on July 3 being canceled was being “well managed,” SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said, although he didn’t rule it out.

The situation is a reminder of the complications of going ahead with the British and Irish Lions’ six-week tour of South Africa at the same time the country is experiencing a marked increase in virus infections. Vaccination levels in South Africa are also very low.

Both teams announced in March despite previous expectations that it would be postponed or moved to another country because of the pandemic.

The communicable diseases institute announced this week that South Africa was now in a third wave of virus infections with an average of nearly 6,000 new cases daily over the past week. South Africa has recorded more than 1.7 million virus cases and more than 57,000 deaths from COVID-19 in total, by far the highest on the African continent.

Experts say both figures are likely much higher in reality due to cases and deaths not being recorded.

The British and Irish Lions will play three tests against the world champion Springboks in late July and early August, but also five games before that against South African domestic teams, starting against South Africa’s Lions in Johannesburg. The tour comes around only every 12 years for South Africa.

The British and Irish Lions changed their schedule and will play all but one of their games in the cities of Johannesburg or Cape Town to limit travel and their exposure to the virus on the tour. Both the British and Irish Lions and the Springboks have said they will vaccinate their squads ahead of their three-test series. The vaccination plans for the South African domestic teams which the Lions are due to face are unclear amid a desperate shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa.
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