Rugby teams and golfers race to find flights home from South Africa

Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets are planning to return to Wales at the earliest opportunity after South Africa was added to the UK government’s travel red list.

The two clubs were set to take part in the United Rugby Championship in South Africa this weekend, with the Scarlets facing the Sharks in Durban on Saturday, and Cardiff playing the Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday.

After UK officials warned of a new variant of coronavirus, both clubs issued short statements overnight stressing they are working on returning to the UK as soon as possible.

Cardiff said they are “looking to repatriate our staff ASAP”, adding that “our focus is to ensure the safety and welfare of our people”. Scarlets added: “Following the news of a new Covid-19 variant in South Africa, Scarlets would like to assure families and friends that we are making every effort to get our touring party back home to the UK as soon as possible.”

The Irish province Munster and Italian club Zebre Parma are also in South Africa for fixtures against the Bulls and Stormers respectively.

UK officials warned on Thursday night that the new variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 has the potential to evade immunity built up by vaccination or prior infection. Sajid Javid, the UK health secretary, said that flights to England from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday on Friday and all six countries will be added to the red list.

Sajid Javid on latest Covid variant: 'Our scientists are deeply concerned' – video
Sajid Javid on latest Covid variant: ‘Our scientists are deeply concerned’ – video

The European Tour – now known as the DP World Tour – has just commenced a three-week swing of events in South Africa and there were numerous withdrawals from the Joburg Open.

Englishmen Oliver Fisher, Steven Brown, Richard McEvoy, Matthew Jordan, Andrew Wilson, Matt Ford and Graeme Storm, Scots Richie Ramsay, Liam Johnston and Craig Howie, Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Caldwell and Cormac Sharvin and Welshman Oliver Farr all pulled out of the tournament before the second round commenced on Friday, along with Republic of Ireland pair Niall Kearney and Paul Dunne.

England’s Lee Slattery opted to begin his second round and will face a tough decision when it is completed. Slattery’s manager Brendan Taylor, head of golf at the Wasserman Group, said: “Lee’s in a pretty tricky situation. He only decided to go down there at the last minute when his category got him in and was thinking of then trying to qualify for the South African Open and hope to get an invite for the Dunhill Championship.

“We’ve got him held on a flight tonight or he can take the decision to stay and try to earn some valuable Race to Dubai points and maybe come home via Dubai and do his quarantine there. I think that would mean getting home on 23 December which would probably sound good if he was single, but Lee’s got a wife and kids to think about.”


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