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UK PM Johnson says teas an issue in upholding cricket virus ban

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London (AFP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson risked angering thousands of club cricketers yet again Friday by saying the recreational game was still not safe to play because of issues surrounding communal teas and dressing rooms.

The England and Wales Cricket Board insisted, however, that the amateur game could restart, with lockdown restrictions on pubs and restaurants set to be lifted this weekend.

Johnson provoked a furious response from the likes of former England captain Michael Vaughan last month by saying a cricket ball was a "vector of disease" even tough recreational tennis and golf have resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Cricket, however, is one of the few sports that has meal breaks as part of its schedule, with tea -- which can also feature a variety of sandwiches and cakes -- part of the fabric of the game at all levels.

That potentially raises issues around social distancing in the current climate, although amateur players may well be willing to make adjustments in return for playing their beloved sport again.

Johnson, trying to differentiate cricket from other sports, told LBC Radio on Friday: "There are various other considerations.

"The longer answer, which I think probably (chief medical officer) Chris Whitty would give if he were here about cricket, the risk is not so much the ball, although that may be a factor.

"It's the teas, it's the changing rooms and so on and so forth. There are other factors involved that generate proximity which you might not get in a game of tennis."

Next week is set to see international cricket resume for the first time since lockdown when England face the West Indies in the first of a three-Test series at Southampton.

Those matches will take place in a bio-secure environment but the ECB were adamant Friday that hygiene measures it had proposed for the amateur game would minimise the risks to club cricketers.

"The ECB believes that cricket is a non-contact sport, with very low risks of exposure, and that it can be played as safely as many other activities being currently permitted," it said in a statement.

"The detailed submission we have shared with the Department For Digital, Culture, Media and Sport includes advice on how we can stage cricket safely and mitigate all potential risks.

"We believe this advice -- allied with strict hygiene measures -- means recreational cricket should be viewed as safe by the UK Government, which would be welcome news to our nation's recreational cricketers."

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