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Sports: Top athletes strive to leave Africa as a new variant of Covid-19 spreads

Former crusader Johnny McNicholl is part of the Scarlets squad in South Africa. Photo / photo sports

British and Irish golfers and rugby teams tried to return home on Saturday after the UK government announced it would ban flights from South Africa to counter the spread of a new variant of Covid-19.

The opening season of the DP World Tour started on Friday, but more than a dozen players have withdrawn from the Joburg Open because of the new restrictions, Tour spokesman Steve Todd confirmed on Saturday.

The United Rugby Championship games, which were scheduled for the next two weekends in South Africa, have been postponed and Welsh teams Cardiff and Scarlets tried to get out.

The Dutch men’s cricket team has reportedly abandoned its tour of South Africa in the middle of Saturday’s first one-day international match at the Centurion, which it will end. The Dutch had planned two more ODIs.

The UK announced that it is suspending flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries and will put travelers from those countries in self-isolation for 10 days from Friday 1200 GMT. From Sunday morning, travelers would have to go into hotel quarantine.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there were concerns that the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and that “the vaccines we currently have may be less effective”.

In addition, the European Union said on Saturday that it was planning to suspend air traffic from southern Africa because of the variant, as the block of 27 nations is struggling with a massive increase in cases.

Irish golfer Paul Dunne told RTE Radio that he was unaware of the situation at the Joburg Open when he finished his late first round on Friday. He has withdrawn and is planning a flight to Dubai for Saturday.

“I had three holes to finish on my first round and when I walked in I turned on my phone and I got messages from everyone asking me if I would go to the airport or stay and play check it out” said Dunne of the radio show.

“Some people are on the course without really having a clue,” he added, “but some people find it difficult. I heard people don’t get a flight until Sunday night.”

Dunne said flights are available but will be routed through Ethiopia, where fighting in the country’s year-long war is drawing near to the c -ital, Addis Ababa.

“A small minefield at the moment,” he said.

Not every British player left. Ashley Chesters shot 2 under 69 on Friday to finish his second round 7 under overall.

The Joburg Open is the beginning of a South Africa swing, followed by the SA Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

With the United Rugby Championship in South Africa put on hold, Scarlets said in a statement that she “wants to reassure families and friends that we are making every effort to get our touring group home as soon as possible.”

Cardiff said: “We are now trying to get our employees back to their homes as soon as possible.”

The Irish province of Munster and the Italian club Zebre Parma were also in South Africa.

Münster tweeted on Friday: “We are all safe and well in Pretoria. We are working with URC on the current situation in connection with Covid-19 and will provide an update as soon as we know more. “

Zimbabwe is hosting a qualifying tournament for the 2022 Women’s Cricket World Cup. The eight visiting teams are the USA, West Indies, Netherlands, Ireland, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The games were played this week and are scheduled until next week.

Warren Deutrom, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Cricket Ireland, said they were “very concerned about the latest developments” and had been in contact with the ICC, the Irish government and local officials “to better understand the facts and the delegation.

“Our decisions will be based primarily on the health and safety of players and staff,” Deutrom said in a statement on Friday. “We will provide updates as soon as possible.”

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