CHRISTCHURCH: Pakis­tan’s cricket tour of New Zealand was in the balance on Thursday after six squad members tested positive for Covid-19 and the team received a ‘final warning’ for flouting quarantine rules.

Cricket officials also said closed-circuit television footage showed some members of the Pakistan squad had contravened protocols on the first day of managed isolation.

“We will be having discussions with the tourists to assist them in understanding the requirements,” New Zealand Cricket said in a statement.

All players were tested four times before their departure from Lahore to New Zealand and were negative on each occasion.

NZC said while the positive cases were disappointing, their early discovery showed New Zealand government protocols around touring teams are working.

As for the protocol breach, NZC said it will work more closely with the Pakistan squad to ensure it understands and complies with isolation rules.

New Zealand health authorities have further revoked the Pakistan players’ ability to train while in isolation at their Christc­hurch hotel, making clear they would not tolerate risky beha­viour in a country that has largely eradicated the virus.

“No members of the public were endangered,” it added.

“It is a privilege to come to New Zealand to play sport, but in return teams must stick to the rules that are designed to keep Covid-19 out of our communities,” director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said in a statement.

The health ministry said Pakistan’s 53-member tour party, led by skipper Babar Azam, tested negative before leaving Lahore and were swabbed again after arriving for a spell of managed isolation on the South Island on Tuesday.

Six tests came back positive and those affected were moved into stricter quarantine, it said, with New Zealand Cricket adding that four cases were new and two were regarded as ‘historical’.

“While this is disappointing for the Pakistan squad, the testing outcomes and the actions taken show the government system is working,” NZC said.

Bloomfield said CCTV showed members of the tour party breaching social distancing protocols.

“The team as a whole has been issued with a final warning,” he said. “It’s imp­or­tant to note that all incidents of breaches occurred within the facility and there is no risk to the public.”

The West Indies cricket team were also reprimanded by New Zealand health authorities for similar breaches earlier this month when they were in managed isolation. CCTV footage showed players mixing in hotel corridors and sharing food, beaching the requirements of their internal bubbles.

The West Indies team was forced to cease training after the breaches were discovered.

New Zealand has largely eradicated community transmission of coronavirus recording just 1,684 cases and 25 deaths in a population of five million.

Aggressive testing, snap lockdowns and effective contact tracing mean domestic life has largely returned to normal, but border control remain strict.

All overseas arrivals must undergo two weeks in quarantine, although New Zealand Cricket negotiated special privileges to allow the tourists to train together.

Health authorities said these had been revoked after several team members were seen on CCTV “breaching managed isolation rules, despite clear, consistent and detailed communication of expected behaviours”.

The tour is scheduled to being with the first of three Twenty20 Internationals in Auckland on Dec 18, followed by two Tests, but will be in jeopardy if there are any further breaches.

NZC said it was having discussions with the tourists to ensure they understood the quarantine requirements.

New Zealand’s military helps manage border virus accommodation and air commodore Darryn Webb — head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine — said there were robust procedures in place to deal with positive tests.

“Our focus is on keeping the rest of the squad and our staff safe,” he said. “For that reason, all other team members must remain in their rooms until further notice while investigations continue.”

Even before Pakistan arrived on New Zealand soil the tour had been hit by ill health, with Pakistan’s dashing opener Fakhar Zaman ruled out at the 11th hour with a persistent fever.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2020

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