Munster rugby squad in hotel lockdown in South Africa

Munster rugby squad in hotel lockdown in South Africa

The Munster rugby squad training in Pretoria, South Africa, on Wednesday. Picture: ©INPHO/Gordon Arons

The Munster rugby squad and staff were in lockdown in a hotel in South Africa on Friday night as the Irish Government advised against non-essential travel to southern Africa amid fears over a new Covid-19 variant.

Arrangements are being made to fly the 33-man squad and staff home as soon as possible following the decision by the United Rugby Championship (URC) on Friday to postpone all games in rounds six and seven of the competition, which were due to take place in South Africa this weekend and next.

Fans who travelled to watch the back-to-back Munster games were also scrambling to find a way home.

Sources close to the Munster camp on Friday said everyone got negative PCR tests during the week as part of their routine testing and they were now all limiting their contacts.

It is understood three options were on the table on Friday in what one source close to the camp described as a fast-changing environment:

  • That the URC would organise their flights home;
  • That Munster would have to charter a flight themselves; 
  • Or that the Irish Government would arrange for an aircraft to be sent to collect them.

It was not clear yet whether they will have to quarantine upon their arrival home, but Carton House in Kildare is understood to be an option, if required.

Munster, who arrived in South Africa last weekend, were due to play the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday and the Emirates Lions on December 4 in Johannesburg. 

Three other teams from the northern hemisphere are also in South Africa for these rounds of games.

But amid confirmation of the emergence of a new variant of Covid-19 in southern Africa, the URC announced at lunchtime on Friday the postponement of the games and said it was working with the four visiting clubs – Cardiff, Munster, Scarlets and Zebre Parma – to facilitate their return as soon as possible.

In a statement afterwards, all four clubs said they were all trying to repatriate their players and staff as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Irish citizens are being urged against all but essential travel to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Botswana based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks after the identification of a new Covid-19 variant. 

A notice posted on the Department of Foreign Affairs' embassy page for South Africa urges citizens to consider the risk of restrictions being introduced should they travel and “the impact which responding to Covid-19 may have on local healthcare systems over the course of their proposed visit”.

It also said it cannot be guaranteed that suspensions of international flights may not be imposed on short notice.

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