COVID surge fears put Australia’s tour of Bangladesh in doubt

Cricket Australia is caught between a rock and a hard place over whether to go ahead with the looming tour of Bangladesh.

Australia are due to fly to the subcontinent next week after completing three one-day internationals in the West Indies, but could be diving headlong into a dangerous COVID-19 surge.

The Cricket Australia board is set to meet in the coming days to decide whether the tour should proceed, but what at first appeared a simple box-ticking exercise has now become more complicated.

Still smarting over the reputational damage it incurred after the last-minute cancellation of the South African tour earlier this year because of COVID protocols, Cricket Australia is desperate to shed its image as an elitist and timid tourist.

But tens of millions of Bangladeshis are shopping and travelling this week during a controversial eight-day pause in the country’s strict coronavirus lockdown that the government is allowing for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha.

The suspension has been heavily criticised by health experts, who warn it could exacerbate an ongoing surge driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, which was first detected in neighbouring India.

People shop at a market ahead of Eid-al Adha in Dhaka, Bangladesh.Credit:AP

“Already there is a scarcity of beds, ICUs, while our healthcare providers are exhausted,” Be-Nazir Ahmed, a public health expert and former chief of the government’s Health Directorate, told the Al Jazeera Media Network.

“So if the situation worsens and more patients come to hospitals, it will be near impossible to deal with the crisis.”

With the spread of the virus rampant, almost everything in Bangladesh – from markets to mass transportation – was ordered to shut on July 1. Soldiers and border guards patrolled the streets and thousands were arrested and sent to jail for violating conditions of the lockdown.

Yet even with the new restrictions, official figures still have deaths hovering around 200 each day and daily infections were still about 11,000, with the real numbers expected to be far higher.

Adam Zampa, right, returned to Australia after choosing to leave the IPL. (Inset) Kane Williamson and David Warner, IPL teammates, suited up for an internal flight in India.Credit:SMH

Despite the warnings from experts, and with just over four million of the country’s 160 million people fully vaccinated, the government announced that from July 15-23 all restrictions would be lifted and everything reopened so people could celebrate the festival, which is normally a boon to the economy.

It was little more than two months ago that Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association were forced to help organise the evacuation of 40 Australian players, coaches and commentators from India to the Maldives after IPL biosecurity bubbles were penetrated by COVID. The Indian board then chartered a plane for the trip back to Australia.

Former Australian great Mike Hussey, a batting coach in the IPL, was left stranded in an Indian hospital after catching the virus.

COVID had become rampant in India because the Government allowed religious festivals and political rallies to take place.

Cricket Australia believes the circumstances in Bangladesh would be different to those South Africa and the IPL because only one heavily policed hotel and one venue would be used for the five T20 matches and the players and support staff are all now fully vaccinated.

“The Bangladesh Cricket Board and Cricket Australia have worked collaboratively on biosecurity and logistical plans for the five-match men’s T20 tour. We are in the final stages of planning now,” a Cricket Australia spokesman said.

Australian Cricketers’ Association CEO Todd Greenberg claimed the players understand their commitment to supporting the broader cricket community through tours such as Bangladesh.

“Prior to and during the summer just gone, both our male and female players demonstrated a willingness to go above and beyond the protocol requirements for COVID to ensure cricket was played and will continue to do so,” Greenberg said.

“Ultimately, of course, the welfare of our players is our number one concern, and in that regard we must act on the health advice provided by Cricket Australia and Government agencies – but the default position of our players is that they want to play cricket.”

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