Munster confirm nine new positive Covid cases as South Africa exit plan set back

Irish provincial outfit Munster have suffered further disappointment after confirming nine new positive coronavirus cases among their squad.

The club is currently isolating in Cape Town, having travelled to South Africa for two rounds of the United Rugby Championship before the country was recently placed on the United Kingdom's red list for travel.

A surge in cases of the new 'Omicron' Covid-19 variant saw Munster, Cardiff, Scarlets and Zebre rush to depart over the weekend before new quarantine measures came into effect.

However, Munster and Cardiff were each prevented from leaving on Sunday after returning positive Covid-19 cases (one and two within their respective squads), while Scarlets and Zebre headed back to Europe.

Munster have since announced a further nine cases among their camp, meaning 10 of their 48-strong party (34 players and 14 staff) are now in strict isolation.

A club statement on Tuesday read: "Munster’s latest round of PCR testing has identified nine positive cases. The group, including staff and players, will move to the designated quarantine hotel in Cape Town joining the first player who tested positive on Sunday.

"The remaining party of 38 have all returned negative results and continue to individually isolate in their rooms where they have been based since Sunday night.

"As outlined by the Irish government on Monday, those that have received negative results have clearance to travel from the South African authorities."

All members of the squad have been isolating in their hotel since Sunday, though there's no specification as to how those in close contact with positive players might be affected.

The lone player who tested positive on Saturday had been isolating in a separate Cape Town hotel, where he will now be joined by those nine new positive members of the club.

Recent developments have thrown Munster's campaign into chaos, with any returning players subject to a 10-day quarantine when they return to Ireland.

That's led to doubt over the upcoming Champions Cup fixtures away to Wasps (Dec. 12) and at home to Castres (Dec. 18), with quarantine meaning players will be severely lacking in preparation even if available in time.

Do you think EPCR should postpone European fixtures for those clubs affected by recent developments? Let us know in the comments section.

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), the body responsible for organising the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, told the Daily Mirror it's "monitoring the situation."

It's understood the competition plans to proceed with fixtures, with Munster and Cardiff likely to lean on their academies if the upcoming European games do go ahead.

Munster academy manager Ian Costello is currently overseeing training for those players available in Limerick, while the club has eight internationals who did not make the trip to South Africa.

Ireland's sports minister, Jack Chambers, offered a positive update on Munster's situation on Monday and said those Covid-negative members of the squad had been given permission to return.

“The South African health authorities have given approval for the rest of the (delegation) to return home, so there is active work ongoing now to allow Munster to get home,” he told RTE.

“There is intensive work ongoing at the moment to get them home as quickly as possible but, as you know, there are difficulties in the travel situation in southern Africa at the moment.”

Head coach Johann van Graan's side were scheduled to face the Bulls in his native Pretoria this past Saturday before taking on the Sigma Lions the following weekend, but both games have been postponed.

It's believed Munster may require special dispensation from EPCR and Irish Rugby in order to sanction some emergency loans in order to field a full squad against Wasps.

Competition rules stipulate that a club will automatically record a 28-0 defeat if they're unable to fulfil their match-day requirements.

Despite the disappointing news from the latest round of PCR tests, Munster said those players who had contracted the virus were "thankfully well and will continue to be monitored medically at this time."

"We understand this is a challenging situation and would like to thank families, friends, colleagues and our rugby community for the many messages of best wishes."

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