The Boxing Day Test and entire Ashes series appears to be hanging by a thread after four non-playing members of England's touring group tested positive to Covid-19.
Just an hour before play was scheduled to start on day two of the Boxing Day Test on Monday, England players remained back at their hotel to have rapid tests.
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“The England team and management are currently at the team hotel awaiting results of RFT Covid tests following a positive test in the team’s family group,” a statement from the ECB said.
At 9.45am they were given the all clear to travel to the MCG, however the start of play was delayed.
In the biggest threat to the series so far, Cricket Australia has confirmed two family members and another two support staff have returned positive rapid antigen tests.
Their entire XI have since returned negative tests to rapid kits, and play started 30 minutes late with no time lost.
But concerns will linger over the England camp, with players to take full PCR tests on Monday.
"Cricket Australia has been informed that two members of the England Cricket Team's support staff and two of their family members have returned a positive COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Test," a statement read.
"The affected individuals are currently isolating.
"The entire playing group and all other support staff have undertaken Rapid Antigen Tests this morning and all have tested negative.
"The England Cricket team will also have PCR tests today, and both teams will take extra precautions throughout play. Both playing squads remain unchanged."
If England are hit with further dramas, the ICC has approved the use of Covid-19 substitutes.
Like-for-like players will be available if others are ruled out with the virus or symptoms of it.
The news came after Channel Seven also confirmed a staff member working on the Ashes broadcast tested positive on Sunday evening.
The Seven Network said the person was asymptomatic at time of testing and has been in self-isolation since returning the positive result.
The case has forced a complete overhaul of their commentary team, with what is essentially their Big Bash crew called in to cover the match.
“Seven is activating its COVID measures to ensure the health and safety of all staff, as well as the broader community, and is working in line with all relevant guidelines and regulations," a statement said.
“There have been a number of changes to today’s production schedule, which will be led by Alistair Nicholson, Andy Maher and Jason Richardson with expert comments from Lisa Sthalekar, Brad Hodge, Callum Ferguson, Michael Atherton and Dirk Nannes.
“Seven’s number one priority is the health, safety and welfare of all staff and the community.”
Seven commentator Alison Mitchell tweeted: “Our @7Cricket Ashes broadcast will sound a little different this morning as most of us wait results of regulatory PCR tests, but no less good, in very capable hands! Such is the world we’re in… Stay safe all.”
Our @7Cricket Ashes broadcast will sound a little different this morning as most of us wait results of regulatory PCR tests, but no less good, in very capable hands! Such is the world we’re in… Stay safe all.
— Alison Mitchell (@AlisonMitchell) December 26, 2021
These are crazy times. We’ll do our very best folks. Still waiting on news out of the English camp.🤞 https://t.co/YiYhqiaID6
— Andy Maher (@AndyMaherDFA) December 26, 2021
— Greg Blewett (@blewy214) December 26, 2021
Fresh Covid-19 dramas rock Ashes series
It is the latest Covid drama to hit the Ashes series.
Australian captain Pat Cummins was forced to miss the second Test in Adelaide after being deemed a close contact of a positive case.
A number of media members also tested positive during the match and were forced to isolate.
There was a sense of nervous excitement among cricket and government officials on Sunday as the MCG welcomed its first 50,000-plus crowd since early May.
For Melbourne Cricket Club chief executive Stuart Fox, it was a welcome change from months of lockouts and lockdowns - even if the total ultimately fell short of their goal.
"It's been a hell of a grind for us and just glad today's here and we're hoping for good numbers to come through the gate," he said before play started.
"70,000 we think would be a great result today. We haven't seen that sort of number through this stadium for some time.
"Just the pain we've all been through, the sporting codes, all the venues, I just think this is a bit of a milestone, particularly for Victoria.
"200,000 through these gates (for the Test) would be an amazing effort given the border issues, given the COVID issues, so what a great day for cricket."
Updated session times today (all times AEDT):
1st session: 11:00am to 1:00pm
2nd session: 1:40pm to 3:40pm
3rd session: 4:00pm to 6:00pm (but let's be honest will be 6:30pm to fit overs in)#Ashes pic.twitter.com/RnhrZsKP6j
— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) December 26, 2021
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