Omicron outbreak in New Zealand: cricket to continue, but behind closed doors

Hannah Rowe celebrates a wicket with her team-mates PA Photos/Getty Images

Upcoming domestic and international matches in New Zealand, potentially including the Women's ODI World Cup, will continue to take place - behind closed doors - after the entire country was put under enhanced Covid-19 restrictions after a community outbreak of the Omicron variant.

New Zealand will move into the "red" setting of a traffic system late on Sunday after cases emerged on both North and South Island. It is not a lockdown but there is a limit of 100 vaccinated people at an event. An NZC spokesperson confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that while the red setting remained in force domestic and international matches would be closed to the public.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern did not specify an exact timeline for the new restrictions, as the country deals with its first community outbreak of Omicron, but indicated it would be a number of weeks.

The first international series to be impacted would be the visit by the India women's team for a tour that includes one T20I and five ODIs beginning February 9. The South Africa men's team is then due to visit for a two-match Test series from mid-February. India arrive on January 26 and South Africa on February 4 with squads needing to undertake ten days quarantine.

Last week, New Zealand postponed a limited-overs tour to Australia because they could not secure MIQ rooms for their return, but the allocations for India and South Africa - plus the Women's World Cup and a late-season visit by the Netherlands men's team - had been locked in before a recent pause to the quarantine system.

Speaking on Sunday, minister for sport and recreation Grant Robertson said that the World Cup organising committee had been planning for a change in restrictions. "Obviously we don't know how long this will last," he said. "The Women's Cricket World Cup organisers have been planning for the tournament to take place in the red setting, and it can absolutely do that."

He also floated the possibility of expanding the use of the 100-person limit by using a "pod" system, which has been recently trialled in the Super Smash.

"Bear in mind, when we brought the red setting in it is possible to use the defined space rules to effectively have pods of 100 people as long as they keep separate from one another and come into and out of the venue separately," Robertson said. "I know the Cricket World Cup team have been thinking about that, if it is necessary."

The Women's World Cup is scheduled to start on March 4 when New Zealand face West Indies in Mount Maunganui. Matches will also be played in Dunedin, Hamilton, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Cricket in New Zealand has so far largely escaped the impact of the pandemic with the country going for long periods without cases and then managing to keep numbers low when they have emerged.

Last season, matches involving the Australia men's team and the England women's side had to briefly go behind closed doors when alert levels were changed following the emergence of cases in Auckland.