Two members of the Indian cricket team touring England – wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant and training assistant Dayanand Garani — have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.

While Pant has been under quarantine for over a week at a relative’s house, Garani has been isolated at a London hotel where the entire squad had checked in earlier this week.

Three others – wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, opener Abhimanyu Easwaran and bowling coach B Arun — have been identified as close contacts of Garani. They have been asked to confine themselves to their rooms for 10 days as a precaution.

The Indian team, minus Pant and the four others in isolation, has moved from London to Durham where they will play a practice game before the first Test against England on August 4.

The BCCI, in a press statement, said Pant was “asymptomatic” and “will be able to join the squad in Durham after returning two negative RT-PCR tests”.

Speaking to The Indian Express, BCCI vice-president Rajiv Shukla, without naming Pant, said, “One player has tested positive but he has been in isolation for the last eight days. He was not staying in any hotel with the team. He did not meet any player, so no other player has been affected.”

“As players were allowed to go out and take a break, many stayed with relatives there. So far, no other player has tested positive and our secretary, Jay Shah, has written to all players to maintain protocols,” he said.

Incidentally, Shah’s communication, dated July 13, reached the players five days after Pant tested positive and a day before they were to reassemble in London for the trip to Durham. The BCCI said the wicketkeeper had tested positive on July 8.

Last month, after the World Test Championship final against New Zealand, the BCCI allowed squad members to leave the bio-bubble with liberty to chalk out their own accommodation and travel plans. With social-distancing protocols relaxed in England, the players and coaching staff, during the three-week break, were seen in crowded stands at the Euro 2020 games and the Wimbledon tennis championship.

Pant and Jasprit Bumrah had posted photographs on social media from football games while coach Ravi Shastri tweeted a selfie from the sidelines of Novak Djokovic’s history-making Grand Slam final at the grass-court tournament.

Shah’s advice to players to stay away from “mass congregations” came a couple of days after the Euro 2020 and Wimbledon final on July 11. “In fact, the new variant is spreading rapidly, and we are not out of the danger zone … In view of this, it is advisable that places of mass congregation, crowded shopping malls/stores and watering holes be avoided by you in the best interest of everyone,” he said.

“I am sure everyone understands the gravity of the situation. Please follow the Covid-19 protocols and stay within the team environment, which is a more controlled one,” he said.

The letter underlined the challenges the England Cricket Board (ECB) has faced in organising the tour during the pandemic. “I am pleased that BCCI’s excellent working relationship with the ECB has enabled us to administer a second dose of the vaccine to each one of you and also to your family members and caretakers. While this surely boosts our fighting capacity against the virus, it by no means guarantees total immunity or resistance against the dreaded virus.”

Shah also reminded players and support staff of the perils of dropping the guard. “You may be aware that the ECB was forced to field another team to play against Pakistan and even the white-ball series between India and Sri Lanka had to be postponed,” he said.

Shukla stated that one needs to understand that Indian players have been in bio-bubbles for months before they travelled to England.

“Players have been staying in a bio-bubble for the past few months now. The situation in the UK is different, the government has opened and relaxed norms. So it was decided to allow our players to take a much-needed break and join the team again later. Jay was in constant touch with the team management and was checking what was happening in England,” he said.

The entire travelling contingent is taking the lateral flow test on a daily basis, the BCCI press release said.

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