The number of unlinked Covid-19 cases in Sydney will help determine whether the SCG is at 50% capacity for the third cricket Test, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he would love to attend.
NSW reported three new locally acquired cases on Friday. However, all three cases are from western Sydney and yet to be linked to the cluster on the northern beaches. The state is also concerned sewage testing in Wollongong has picked up fragments of the virus.
The four-Test series between Australia and India resumes at the SCG on Thursday, with Cricket Australia’s board opting against a late change to its schedule. The NSW government remains confident fans will be able to attend the match.
NSW opposition leader Jodi McKay, health expert Norman Swan and some epidemiologists have questioned whether that is wise. But the state’s stance drew support from the highest office in the country on New Year’s Day.
“I have great confidence in the decisions the NSW government is making in relation to these matters,” Scott Morrison said. “Whatever level of crowd they ultimately decide is appropriate for that public event, I am sure will be based on health advice.
“On that basis, I’m comfortable with those decisions. If I was in Sydney, I would love to go there and sing the national anthem in its new form.”
Border restrictions will likely ensure Morrison does not attend the third Test. Morrison said he had exchanged text messages with Australia’s captain Tim Paine and coach Justin Langer on Friday, when the health crisis ensured there was no Kirribilli meet and greet with the Test squad.
Current restrictions will allow cricket fans to attend the SCG, provided they are not from certain postcodes and agree to wear a mask when not seated. However, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reiterated on Friday that “this pandemic is an evolving situation and every day things can change”.
“The government will consider new settings if we need to. Every day the government will make decisions and move swiftly if we feel we need to,” Berejiklian said. “That includes looking at events, looking at venues. If we get to a stage where there’s too many cases that are completely unlinked then of course we’ll adjust.”
The premier added “we are always concerned when cases pop up, which we can’t establish a link for”.
“That’s why those cases in western Sydney are a big concern for us,” Berejiklian said. “But in NSW, we make sure that we adjust our settings based on the health advice. Based on the rates of testing, whether we can establish links … there’s a number of things we look at.”
Cricket Australia is also on tenterhooks to see if they require special exemptions to get three Big Bash League teams into Perth after Western Australia closed its border to Victoria.
The Scorchers are due to host the Melbourne Renegades on Sunday, but as of Friday morning there were still questions over how both teams would enter the state. CA’s hub system has so far protected the BBL from the latest Covid-19 outbreak, with matches not being played in NSW.
But the closure of the Western Australia border poses the most serious challenge so far, with anyone who has been in Victoria since 21 December not allowed in.
Renegades captain Aaron Finch was one player to spend time at home in Victoria before Christmas. Other possible concerns would be if partners or children who had been in Victoria since 21 December entered the hub over Christmas. In turn, there is a fear that would make anyone they mixed with in the touring parties close contacts, therefore throwing into question whether teams could enter.
At this stage it is understood there are question marks over the Scorchers, Renegades and Sydney Sixers, who also play in Perth on Wednesday. If CA is able to secure exemptions from the Western Australian government for those who have been in Victoria, there would be no issues.
If they cannot, it’s likely they will attempt to enact play-in-quarantine measures, where players only leave hotels to go to the ground in a similar style to how the AFL season was conducted. In the worst-case scenario matches could be moved, but that remains highly unlikely.
The situation is another timely reminder of why CA were desperate to play the tournament in strict hubs, given there did not appear to be any apparent threat in Victoria just three days ago.
Meanwhile a decision on the Women’s National Cricket League will also be made shortly, with significant scheduling challenges. NSW are meant to play their first game in South Australia on 15 January, but all interstate borders remain closed to the state at this stage.