England return for Sri Lanka Tests amid virus surge

Colombo (AFP) –


The England cricket team arrives in Sri Lanka on Sunday to resume a pandemic-hit Test series as the South Asian nation battles a sudden surge in infections and deaths.

Joe Root's team will immediately go into a secure bubble on their arrival which comes two days after authorities deployed top military officers to help contain coronavirus cases.

Sri Lanka was one of the least-affected countries but the number of deaths has jumped from 13 in early October to 208 on Saturday. The WHO has blamed a new strain of the virus which may have come from Scandinavia.

The country had just six reported cases when England abruptly pulled out of their tour during a warm-up match in March. They return to an island which now has nearly 44,000 infections.

England withdrew from another tour in South Africa last month because the number of cases made players feel uncomfortable.

But the two Tests in Galle are to be played under strict health guidelines, cricket officials said.

England will be permitted to enter Sri Lanka despite a ban on all flights and passengers from Britain following the discovery of a new mutant coronavirus strain.

- Kept in isolation -

Sri Lanka Cricket chief executive Ashley de Silva said England were being allowed to enter on the basis that they will be tested and certified virus-free before leaving.

"The tour will go ahead as planned," de Silva told AFP adding that they had monitored the situation on a daily basis and decided it was safe for to stage the two-matches.

England will undergo quarantine for 10 days in a "bio-secure bubble" and be subjected to frequent testing.

The England cricket board confirmed their players and support staff had undergone tests prior to leaving.

"Following the Covid-19 testing on December 30, the touring party for the Sri Lanka Test tour have all tested negative," England spokesman Danny Reuben said.

De Silva said the England team will arrive in a chartered aircraft and land at Rajapaksa International, a little-used airport in the south of the island.

The team will be taken to a nearby hotel and practice at Hambantota international stadium in the same area. They will not have contact with outsiders.

Four days before the first Test on January 14, the team will be driven to Galle, some 125 kilometres (78 miles) away, for training at the sea-side stadium adjoining a colonial-era fort.

Spectators are not allowed at the two Tests, but ramparts of the Dutch Fort offer a vantage view of action at the stadium. The second Test will start there on January 22.

Sri Lanka is facing its second wave of infections since early October. The number of infections which stood around 3,300 at the start of October has shot up to 44,000 by Friday.