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The Ashes series is hanging by a thread after four non-playing members of England’s touring group tested positive to Covid-19 in Melbourne.

In the biggest threat to the series so far, two support staff and two of their family members returned positive rapid antigen tests.

Day two of the third Test on Monday was delayed by 30 minutes as England were held back at their hotel to return negative rapid tests.

Members of Channel 7’s commentary team were noticeably absent from Monday’s broadcast, with Ricky Ponting, Ian Botham, and Mel McLaughlin all missing. 

The Ashes series is hanging by a thread after four non-playing members of England's touring group tested positive to COVID-19 in Melbourne

The Ashes series is hanging by a thread after four non-playing members of England's touring group tested positive to COVID-19 in Melbourne

The Ashes series is hanging by a thread after four non-playing members of England’s touring group tested positive to COVID-19 in Melbourne

Mel McLaughlin, Ricky Ponting and Ian Botham (pictured) were forced to take Covid tests after a Seven staff member contracted the virus on Sunday night

Mel McLaughlin, Ricky Ponting and Ian Botham (pictured) were forced to take Covid tests after a Seven staff member contracted the virus on Sunday night

Mel McLaughlin, Ricky Ponting and Ian Botham (pictured) were forced to take Covid tests after a Seven staff member contracted the virus on Sunday night

Cricket Australia is adamant that the series should continue as planned, but there are significant grounds for concern.  

‘We just need to remain calm and get the facts,’ CA boss Nick Hockley said.

‘Everyone needs to follow the medical advice. On that basis, we keep going. We’ve been working on the plans for this tour for over six months.’

NSW recorded 6,324 new Covid cases with 1,999 in Victoria despite a temporary dip in testing rates leading up to Christmas saw fewer diagnoses on Boxing Day. 

There have been fears that the current Boxing Day test, Sydney’s New Year test and the fifth and final match of the series in Hobart could all be under threat given the increase in cases.

Each player will undergo a further PCR test after play, with extra provisions taken including the wearing of masks and gloves outside the boundary. 

England have already had two tours called off mid-trip in the past two years through Covid-19, while a home Test against India was also cancelled earlier this year.

In that case, four members of India’s backroom staff had contracted the virus amid fears of a bigger outbreak.

But a defiant Hockley insisted that situation in the Ashes was entirely different. 

‘Our protocols are designed for absolutely this set of events. We’ve got strong protocols. We’ve got very comprehensive testing regimes,’ he said.

Day two of the third Test on Monday was delayed by 30 minutes as England were held back at their hotel to return negative rapid tests

Day two of the third Test on Monday was delayed by 30 minutes as England were held back at their hotel to return negative rapid tests

Day two of the third Test on Monday was delayed by 30 minutes as England were held back at their hotel to return negative rapid tests

If further dramas hit, like-for-like substitute players can be called in, after being approved by the ICC last year for players showing symptoms.

But a full-scale outbreak would no doubt spell a disaster for CA and the series, with each Test a multi-million dollar product for the sport.

Questions also now linger over the locations of the rest of the series with the final two Tests set for Sydney and Hobart.

Under current rules in both NSW and Tasmania, England’s entire team would have been forced to isolate for seven days had they been deemed close contacts.

In essence, it means the Test would have likely been called off on Monday morning had it been played in any other state other than Victoria or NSW.

Following the third Test, players from both sides will be taken from Melbourne to Sydney in a chartered flight and put up in private accommodation.

But despite NSW averaging more than 6,000 cases per day in recent days, Hockley insisted there was no need to change the schedule.

Cricket Australia is adamant that the series should continue as planned, but there are significant grounds for concern

Cricket Australia is adamant that the series should continue as planned, but there are significant grounds for concern

Cricket Australia is adamant that the series should continue as planned, but there are significant grounds for concern

‘That’s not part of our current planning,’ Hockley said.

‘There’s nothing to suggest otherwise. We’ll rely on the protocols. It’s a day-by-day proposition.’

The latest drama comes after Australian skipper Pat Cummins was ruled out of the Adelaide Test after becoming a close contact of a COVID-19 case at a restaurant on the match eve.

The Seven Network required a complete overhaul of their commentary team on Monday, after each of their day-one commentators were deemed close contacts to a case in their broadcast staff.

Source: Daily Mail

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