CA backs SCG Test bubble to keep players safe, with strict measures in place for Brisbane

Cricket Australia says its plan to play the third Test against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground is watertight and the series finale at Brisbane will not be endangered by a rise in Sydney COVID-19 cases.

Officials on Tuesday night locked in the historic ground as the venue for the January 7 Test, but only after a week of high-level meetings.

Crowds of more than 22,000 could still be let in despite Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak, with the 50 per cent capacity at this point considered only a baseline.

But it was only possible after an 11th-hour agreement by the Queensland Government to grant exemptions to players and officials to cross the closed border for the fourth Test at the Gabba.

As part of the deal, players will move from Melbourne to Sydney just days out from the Test and remain in a strict bio-secure bubble that will limit contact with the outside.

On arrival into Queensland conditions will be just as stringent, with players only allowed to leave the hotel to train or play under the terms of the exemption.

Pat Cummins wears a mask as he hugs his partner at an airportPat Cummins wears a mask as he hugs his partner at an airport
Players will remain in a strict bio-secure bubble that will limit contact with the outside in Sydney.(AAP: Craig Golding)

That had prompted questions over whether a surge in Sydney cases could affect those exemptions, but interim Cricket Australia boss Nick Hockley said there was no such risk.

“That was precisely the reason why we have our biosecurity protocols,” Hockley said.

“It’s why we have measures in place and why we are in a bubble in Sydney.

NSW had recorded single-digit local case numbers for eight days before reporting 18 new cases today.

A new Inner West cluster fuelled fears of the outbreak spreading from the northern beaches and into greater Sydney.

Fans at a rainy day three of the SCG TestFans at a rainy day three of the SCG Test
The historic SCG has been locked in to host the third Test.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

However, Hockley had not divulged whether other contingencies were in place in the event that the exemptions became problematic.

Working in Cricket Australia’s favour at least is that they have been able to whittle the travelling party down from around 100 to 30, with limited need for moving broadcast crew.

The next great challenge for the organisation now remains what movements players can make after the Brisbane Test.

Given they will have been in Sydney in the fortnight prior to the end of the Gabba Test, exemptions may be required for them to return to their home states.

Clouds loom above the GabbaClouds loom above the Gabba
In Queensland, players will only be allowed to leave the hotel to train or play under the terms of the exemption.(ABC News: James Maasdorp)

Players including Matthew Wade, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Moises Henriques could require similar exemptions to feature as marquees at the end of the BBL season.

“Players who are going onto the BBL, we will work to get the necessary exemptions if there are restrictions still in place,” Hockley said.

“We are working closely with the whole Government to get this whole summer to happen.

Chant says masks will be handed out on public transport

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Additional health measures in place for third Test in Sydney

New South Wales’ Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant says those attending the SCG Test will need to wear a mask when they are not seated, and remain socially distanced from other patrons.

“We will be handing out masks on public transport going into the SCG, and advising people to wear masks when they are not physically at their seat,” she told a media briefing.

“We also are asking people to ensure that they recognise [rules] around screaming and chanting, particularly when they are not in their fixed location.

“There are a number of strategies laid out in our COVID-safe plans that allow for movement in and out so that people are not as likely to come into contact with each other.

“And many of our larger venues have quite sophisticated movements where people are designated to come in particular gates and, therefore, again avoid that crossover.”

She reiterated that any spectators who feel unwell, even slightly, should not attend the cricket.

“We have got faith in the transport plan and the work that the Sydney Cricket Ground has done but we are looking over the plans as we speak to ensure that we can strengthen all elements,” she said.

“But, again, we’re urging anyone who is unwell, do not attend. Check before you go to that Test, check the venue and make sure that you haven’t been to any of those sites.”

Federal Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly echoed Dr Chant’s outlook on the relative safety of outdoor gatherings and said it was “a great thing for Sydney to have” the Test.

He also praised the COVID-safe measures that have been flagged by NSW Health, the SCG and Cricket Australia, but said he would not be taking any of his elderly, or otherwise vulnerable, relatives to the SCG.

“There are crowd restrictions, masks will be made available etc, but … there is risk,” Professor Kelly said.

“It needs to be weighed with the benefits, of course. The other thing I would say is that the start date is January 7, and nine days is very long in COVID time. So let’s see what happens in Sydney in the next week.”