By Mark Gleeson
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -The British & Irish Lions were going ahead with the second match of their South Africa tour on Wednesday against the Sharks despite the visitors reporting two COVID-19 cases amid a virulent third wave in the host nation.
The Lions said one player and a management member tested positive, but that the rest of the squad had negative results from PCR tests, so the game at Ellis Park could go ahead, though kick-off was put back one hour to 1800GMT.
"The two individuals had a total of 12 close contacts – eight players and four staff members – all of whom have been placed into isolation at the team hotel," said a Lions statement.
"All other members of the touring party returned negative results following PCR testing earlier today."
That led to four changes to the team named on Monday, all in the backline plus four on the bench. Those out included tour captain Conor Murray.
On Tuesday, the Lions’ scheduled weekend match against the Bulls in Pretoria was called off after the Currie Cup champions reported four cases in their ranks.
The announcement of a first case in the Lions camp came minutes after South Africa cancelled Friday’s warm-up test against Georgia.
The Springboks, who are due to play the Lions in the first game of a three-match series on July 24, have been in self-isolation since Monday when four new cases were reported in their ranks. This increased to 12 on Tuesday after a new round of testing with both coach Jacques Nienaber and flyhalf Handre Pollard among those infected.
South Africa were scheduled to meet Georgia in their second test at Ellis Park on Friday as a warm-up for the Lions series. However, that was cancelled after Georgia also reported six cases in their ranks.
South Africa went into a severe lockdown on June 28 - the eve of the Lions' arrival - as COVID-19 infections spiked. Last Saturday, the country had a daily record of 26,000 new cases.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Ed Osmond)