By David Williams
Cardiff and the Scarlets are trying to return to Wales from South Africa after the country was added to the UK Government’s travel red list fiollowing a new Covid 19 variant outbreak.
The Scarlets were set to face the Sharks in Durban on Saturday, with Cardiff also due to feature in the United Rugby Championship against the Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday.
Irish province Munster and Italian club Zebre Parma are also in South Africa ahead of fixtures against the Bulls and Stormers respectively, and all four sides are due to play a second round of matches in the country next weekend.
But UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said flights to England from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday Friday and all six countries will be added to the red list.
From midday travellers from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini will have to self-isolate for 10 days, with those arriving after 04:00 GMT on Sunday required to quarantine in a hotel.
That will cause major disruption to the Scarlets’ and Cardiff’s plans ahead of their European Champions Cup matches next month.
Cardiff welcome holders Toulouse to the Arms Park on Saturday, December 11, with the Scarlets away to Bristol later the same day.
With the situation in South Africa having changed so quickly, we are now looking to repatriate our staff ASAP,” Cardiff said on Twitter.
Many will have seen the news about the new Covid variant that affects our people @scarlets_rugby 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 asap
— Simon Muderack (@swmuderack) November 25, 2021
“For concerned families and friends, please rest assured that our focus is to ensure the safety and welfare of our people and will keep you updated with any developments.”
Scarlets chairman Simon Muderack wrote on social media: “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 asap.
“Clearly this is a matter of great concern,” he said on BBC Radio Wales.
“John Daniels our general manager of rugby and Sara Davies our team manager as well as a number of people in the team have been working through the night to figure out the options and have been keeping me regularly updated.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to pull together a final solution in the next couple of hours.
“Firstly, we need to make sure that the whole team, the staff that are down there, are safe. So they’ve gone into a bubble to try and minimise any risk to themselves.
“Secondly, we obviously want to get them home, thirdly we’d like to get them home as directly as possible.
From midday Friday 26 November, the following destinations will be added to the travel Red List 🔴
The FCDO also advises against all but essential travel to these countries with immediate effect.
— FCDO Travel Advice (@FCDOtravelGovUK) November 25, 2021
“And then, fourthly, we’d like to get them home before the 4am deadline on Sunday. Clearly, their safety and repatriation are the top priorities, and if we achieve the final two all better.
“Their families at home are obviously concerned. We want the boys and girls who were on the trip to be able to come home and go home.
“From a rugby perspective that obviously gives us more options in terms of how we can then continue with the season over the next couple of weeks, but certainly, priority number one is about the people rather than the rugby, but clearly, there is a rugby impact too.”
A host of UK and Irish golfers on Friday also withdrew ahead of the second day’s play at the Joburg Open, the first event of the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour.
Muderack added: “I found out about this at 9.06pm last night and I believe the news broke at about 9pm.
“So within five or six minutes of the words being uttered, we picked up immediately.
“To be fair, we immediately made the decision on a people basis without any consideration of what any consequences would be from a rugby standpoint.
“So even before we had any confirmation from the league what this would mean in terms of the fixtures, we immediately made the decision to put in motion the steps to get the boys and the girls that are down there back.
With the situation in South Africa having changed so quickly, we are now looking to repatriate our staff ASAP. For concerned families and friends, please rest assured that our focus is to ensure the safety and welfare of our people and will keep you updated with any developments.
— Cardiff Rugby (@Cardiff_Rugby) November 25, 2021
“I’m sure their phones have been ringing through the night and their families at home are concerned for their health, well-being, and also, when are they going to see them and if they do make it home, when will they make it home, are they going to be cooped up in a quarantine environment?
“So I’m sure they’ve had sleepless nights and clearly, that means that consideration of rugby in the short term is secondary.
“Clearly it’s a serious situation. There’s distress, but the decision to repatriate as soon as possible, regardless of the rugby consequence, was a very easy decision to make.”
He concluded: “We need to lock down our travel options, we already have options secure to repatriate people.
“So I think in terms of, making sure the players on the staff that are down there are safe, that’s job number one and well underway, making sure that there’s a set of options to get them back to the UK. We have that in place, trying to get direct options and trying to get in before the 4am curfew on Sunday is what we’re now focused on.
“We are also talking to, and we’ll collaborate to the extent that it’s possible with Cardiff Rugby. So if there’s something that we can do together, clearly we should look a that because they’re in the same boat as us.”