The omicron variant is already having an effect on the sports world, about 21 months after games and events were put on pause when the coronavirus pandemic first exploded.
Golf, cricket and rugby were the first major international sports to be affected by the new COVID-19 variant. Several European golfers withdrew from a DP World Tour tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa, while rugby games were postponed and the Dutch cricket team decided to defer their series against a South African team.
British golfers withdrew from the Joburg Open after Britain placed a ban on flights from South Africa, while the event was reduced to 54 holes to “help non-South African resident players, caddies and tournament support staff return to their home countries,” according to the Golf Channel.
Next week’s South African Open will now only be a South African Tour event and the Alfred Dunhill Championship set for Dec. 9-12 was canceled.
Scottish golfer David Drysdale said he decided to keep playing in the tournament and will stay in the country with his wife and make a vacation out of it.
“Most of the British players have all decided to head home and that’s totally understandable if you’ve got a wife and kids at home,” Drysdale told the Scotsman. “There wasn’t a (plane) seat to be had by the time we found out what had happened. A lot of the guys were panicking, but we thought, ‘What’s the point?’
“We are staying with a mate in Joburg and our plan is to still stay until Christmas then return home. Hopefully this variant is not as bad as they are fearing … it’s not even been 24 hours since we heard about this.”
Two Welsh rugby teams and teams from Ireland and Italy were also trying to return home while their United Rugby Championship was postponed.
The Dutch cricket team said it would defer the three-match series with South Africa.
“We are saddened by these circumstances, but are grateful to Cricket South Africa for their assistance and understanding of our team’s position,” Dutch team CEO Jurgen Delfos said in a statement. “It must be made clear that the concerns are strictly over travel issues and how soon the team can get home and have nothing to do with the integrity of the Bio-Secure Environment (BSE) that CSA has successfully hosted. Our team has been pleased with every aspect of the organization of the tour and have been well-treated by our hosts.
“We have been looking forward to this series for some time and are keen on returning to South Africa in the near future.”
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned against hastily imposing travel restrictions linked to the B.1.1.529 variant, warning officials to avoid “knee-jerk responses,” the 27-nation European Union said it would propose stopping air travel from southern Africa.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that flights “should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that it’s a possibility but that scientists need to first determine whether the variant can evade antibodies created by vaccines and viral infection.
“Obviously, as soon as we find out more information, we’ll make a decision as quickly as we possibly can,” the White House chief medical adviser on COVID-19 told “New Day” co-host Brianna Keilar. “You always put these things on the table, but you don’t want to say you’re going to do it until you have some scientific reason to do it. That’s the reason why we’re rushing now to get that scientific data to try and make an informed decision about something like that.”
Fox News’ Julia Musto and the AP contributed to this report.