Pakistan's cricket tour of New Zealand was in the balance Thursday after six squad members tested positive for COVID-19 and the team received a ‘final warning’ for flouting quarantine rules.
New Zealand health authorities 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.
‘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.
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Health authorities said these had been revoked after several team members were seen on CCTV ‘breaching managed isolation rules, despite clear, consistent and detailed communication of expected behaviours’.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 December 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 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 while investigations continue.’
Even before Pakistan arrived on Kiwi 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.
The 30-year-old left-hander tested negative along with the rest of the squad.
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