You British and Irish lions arrived in South Africa on Monday amid speculation that some matches scheduled for coronavirus-flooded Johannesburg could be moved to less affected Cape Town.
A modified schedule last month sees Lions start with two games in Johannesburg and one in Pretoria, two cities at the epicenter of a deadly third wave of Covid-19.
They then move to Cape Town for three games before a two-hour flight takes them back to Johannesburg for the final two games of Lions’ first tour of the republic since 2009.
The 37 touring squad, led by Irish scrum-half Conor Murray following the retirement of Wales Alun Wyn Jones with a shoulder injury last Saturday, will be based on biological bubbles throughout the tour.
While South African and Lions officials gasped over possible location changes, two South African rugby officials told AFP that “the program is under discussion during the wave of Covid-19.”
Cape Town is currently less severely affected by the pandemic, which has led President Cyril Ramaphosa to move national restrictions to the fourth stage on Sunday, the second-highest level.
The sale of alcohol has been banned, restaurants banned, and a nightly curfew extended to seven hours in a country where the slow launch of the vaccine has sparked medical and political criticism.
South Africa is the country of the continent most affected by the pandemic with 1,928,897 cases and 59,900 deaths by Sunday night.
Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium will host the first game this Saturday, with the local Lions team against the visitors.
Happier news for South African rugby was the Springboks resuming training on Monday after three team members tested positive for the virus over the weekend.
Winger Sibusiso Nkosi, scrum-half Herschel Jantjies and prop Vincent Koch all tested positive, leading the entire team to be placed in temporary isolation.
A South Africa Rugby statement said the reigning world champions were immediately resuming preparations for the first of two tests against Georgia and Jantjies would take part in training.
On 2 and 9 July in Pretoria and Johannesburg, South Africa will face Georgia, the European second division team, the first game since defeating England and winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The coronavirus wreaked havoc with the Springboks last year, forcing the cancellation of all 13 home and away internationals.
After the Georgia Test, South Africa is preparing to face Lions for three consecutive Saturdays starting July 24.
The Springboks have won eight of their previous 13 series against the Lions, lost four and drew one since their first match in 1891.