South Africa were forced to cancel training for the second time in eight days after experiencing another Covid-19 outbreak which will cast further doubt on the Lions series surviving the pandemic that is sweeping the country.
Sale Sharks second row Lood de Jager returned a positive Covid-19 test and because he was deemed a close contact with a number of other players, the entire squad will be placed into isolation. They will undergo a further round of PCR testing before the Medical Advisory Group (MAG) meets on Monday night to ascertain whether the infection has spread through the group.
Last week, South Africa were allowed to resume training the day after Vincent Koch and wing S’bu Nkosi tested positive. At the time, the Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus expressed confidence that this was an isolated case that would not affect the Test series against the Lions that begins on July 24.
“I really don’t think it’s a big worry in the sense that it’s the first time the guys came from all over and came together,” Erasmus said. “I’m pretty confident that it’s an isolated case. None of them has symptoms, and we’ll do retesting [when] the medical committee tell us to. At this stage, we feel [the outbreak] is to a minimum because we followed protocols when the guys got to the hotel. The hotel is a sanitised zone on its own where nobody can get out except us.”
That confidence will be shaken by a second outbreak with the country in the grip of a third wave that president Cyril Ramaphosa said was causing the health system to “buckle”. It is estimated through excess mortality statistics that more than 170,000 may have died from Covid-19 in South Africa where a two-week lockdown has banned all gatherings as well as the sale of alcohol.
It is not hard to see the parallels with the Indian Premier League, whose mantra that the show must go on crumbled as Indian hospitals were overwhelmed by the pandemic while a number of cricketers also contracted the virus. For now, the Lions and SA Rugby are both hoping that De Jager will be an isolated case.
South Africa’s warm-up match against Georgia on Friday is now imperilled. De Jager, who must isolate for 10 days, is ruled out of that game and would be an acute loss for the Springboks who are experiencing a severe shortage of lock forwards. Flanker Pieter Steph du Toit, the World Rugby Player of the Year in 2019, may move into the second row to plug the gap.
The Lions, who will be represented on the MAG by their head of medical Prav Mathema as well as their own independent virologist, face the Cell C Sharks on Wednesday in their third warm-up match.