COVID-19: Welsh rugby teams on tour in South Africa race to return to UK as variant sparks flight suspensions
Two Welsh rugby teams are looking to repatriate their staff and players as soon as possible after South Africa was added to the travel red list.
Cardiff Rugby and Scarlets Rugby had both travelled to the country to play two United Rugby Championship games each.
But a new coronavirus variant has been discovered that could be more transmissible and more resistant to vaccines.
South Africa is being added to the red list at 12pm on Friday, meaning flights are being suspended and those who arrive in the UK will be required to isolate for 10 days.
From 4am on Sunday, this quarantine period will need to take place in a hotel.
This will have a knock-on effect for both teams because the Heineken Champions Cup is due to begin on home soil on 10 December – affecting preparations in the run-up to the tournament.
Simon Muderack, the executive chairman of Scarlets Rugby, tweeted on Thursday night: “Many will have seen the news about the new COVID variant that affects our people in South Africa.
“We are focused on the welfare of our staff in South Africa and the concern of their families at home. We are exploring all options to repatriate our people as soon as possible.”
Cardiff Rugby released a similar statement, and promised to offer regular updates with any developments.
According to WalesOnline, both teams are currently trying to arrange charter flights later today.
While Cardiff are currently based in Cape Town, the Scarlets are approximately 1,000 miles away in Durban.
Flights from Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe are also being suspended as the new B.1.1.529 variant is investigated.
Experts in the UK have called it the “worst one we’ve seen so far”.
A total of 59 confirmed cases have been linked to the variant at present.
But in South Africa, where infection numbers have risen dramatically in recent days, there are concerns that B.1.1.529 is behind many cases.