A host of foreign sports teams have begun to flee South Africa amid reports that a new and highly transmissible variant of Covid-19 has been detected in the region.
South African sport looks set to be facing yet another shutdown after reports of a new strain of the virus which has led to fears that it may be the most vaccine-resistant variant yet, and prompted the likes of the UK, Singapore and Japan to ban flights from South Africa and a host of nearby countries.
Initial reporting states that new strain has as many as 32 mutations, which could indicate increased transmissibility compared to the Delta variant, with the World Health Organization (WHO) set to convene for an emergency meeting on Friday.
The concerns have led to various UK & Ireland-based rugby teams attempting to leave South Africa, with 15 golfers from the aforementioned countries having also withdrawn from action ahead of the second day of the Joburg Open, the first event of the newly-rebranded DP World Tour.
The UK is set to impose travel restrictions from 12pm GMT on Friday, with Welsh rugby team Cardiff announcing in a hurried statement that they were seeking to “repatriate” the team as soon as possible.
The UK travel restrictions will initially apply to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia. It is thought that anyone seeking to arrive into the UK from those countries after a deadline this weekend will be required to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine.
With the situation in South Africa having changed so quickly, we are now looking to repatriate our staff ASAP. For concerned families and friends, please rest assured that our focus is to ensure the safety and welfare of our people and will keep you updated with any developments.
— Cardiff Rugby (@Cardiff_Rugby) November 25, 2021
“With the situation in South Africa having changed so quickly, we are now looking to repatriate our staff ASAP,” the club said.
“For concerned families and friends, please rest assured that our focus is to ensure the safety and welfare of our people and will keep you updated with any developments.”
Another Welsh team, Scarlets, also indicated that they were seeking to leave South Africa as soon as possible and will not be able to fulfil their scheduled fixture with the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
📰We all are safe & well in Pretoria.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) November 26, 2021
Reports from Irish media, meanwhile, say that the Munster rugby team are also hoping to leave South Africa at the earliest opportunity.
However, according to a Friday statement Cricket South Africa say that they have not yet been made aware of any developments which might affect a forthcoming series with the Netherlands.
“At this stage of our planning and preparedness, we have not learnt of any developments that relate to the impact of the new variant on the inbound internationals,” a spokesperson told Reuters.
“Should there be changes to this, CSA will issue a statement and advice on any planned adjustments.”