Pakistan Cricket Board CEO Wasim Khan was told by the New Zealand government that one more breach of New Zealand’s Covid-19 protocols by the Pakistan squad would result in the entire travelling party being deported.
In a WhatsApp voice message to the travelling players which ESPNcricinfo has obtained, the PCB CEO addressed his players candidly, telling them being sent back home would be “hugely embarrassing”.
“Boys, I spoke to the New Zealand government and they told us there were three or four breaches of protocols,” Wasim Khan said in the voice note. “They have a zero-tolerance policy and they’ve given us a final warning. We understand that this is a difficult time for you, and you went through similar conditions in England. It’s not easy. But this is a matter of the nation’s respect and credibility. Observe these 14 days and then you’ll have the freedom to go to restaurants and roam about freely. They have told me in clear terms that if we commit one more breach, they’ll send us home.”
The Pakistan squad is due to play three T20s and two Tests in New Zealand, and landed in Auckland on a chartered flight with special permission obtained from the New Zealand government. They moved on to Christchurch, where they were set to undergo 14 days of strict isolation. The arrangements, however, got off to a rocky start when six players returned positive Covid-19 tests upon landing in New Zealand; the PCB had claimed there were no positive tests in the travelling party in Lahore, from where the team flew. The six players were moved into a separate isolation facility.
More significantly, New Zealand Cricket issued a statement revealing several players had breached quarantine regulations, and that the team would be put on a “final warning”. It prompted a rebuke from New Zealand’s director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, who said it was “a privilege to come to New Zealand to play sport, but in return teams must stick to the rules that are designed to keep Covid-19 out of our communities”.
The message appears to have been conveyed, in no uncertain terms, to Khan. “This is a matter of national pride,” he went on in his message to the Pakistan players. “It would be very embarrassing if they end up sending the team back. I know it’s very tough and difficult, but stay disciplined and follow the protocols they have set. We have no margin for error with the New Zealand government. This is a final warning. They will not compromise on health and safety. Do what’s right for your country.”
The low rate of Covid-19 transmission in New Zealand means the bio-secure bubble need not be maintained following the expiry of the quarantine period. With no active cases outside of borders or isolation facilities, the entire nation is operating under what are known as Level 1 conditions, which effectively mean no restrictions on movement within New Zealand. At one point, the nation went over 100 days without an officially recorded positive Covid-19 case, and a second wave that saw a few hundred further cases was swiftly extinguished.
That may go on to explain the seriousness with which New Zealand appears to treat any violations of its Covid protocols. If Pakistan’s travelling squad weren’t aware of the ramifications of falling foul of the regulations before today, they certainly will be now.