Fixtures are cancelled as Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529 spreads in South Africa

Covid latest: URC teams explore exit strategies as new variant hits South Africa

An outbreak of a new Covid-19 variant in South Africa and impending travel bans to the country mean that this and next weekend’s United Rugby Championship matches there have been postponed.

Both Welsh sides, the Scarlets and Cardiff, have made it public they are exploring exit strategies before new quarantine deadlines come into action, while Munster and Zebre will follow suit. From 12:00 today, six countries six countries in Africa have been added to the UK’s red list and any British resident returning from the region after 4am on Sunday will have to quarantine in a hotel.

Munster were set to play the Bulls in a high-profile showdown and have said in the wake of URC’s news, “We are in the process of getting the touring party back to Ireland. The squad returned negative PCR test results in the latest routine testing.”  Zebre, who are also in South Africa, are reportedly working on contingency plans to get out of the country too.

It had been announced in October by URC bosses that rounds six and seven of the competition would allow the SA franchises (Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers) the chance to compete on home soil for the first time. Beforehand the franchises had played on the road, but the picture changed as South Africa was taken off the UK’s travel red list.

This was due to be the first weekend South Africans supporters were allowed back into rugby stadiums, with crowd limitations of 2,000 attendees.

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) have said they are “monitoring the situation” as prolonged time in quarantine for teams who cannot get out of South Africa in time could throw Champions Cup and Challenge Cup fixtures into doubt as well.

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