‘Safer at SCG’: NSW Government’s staggering Test claim
NSW Health officials have declared that an SCG crowd could in fact be safer than Sydneysiders watching the third Test at home on television.
Face masks are set to be encouraged for fans when they commute to the SCG.
"We have certainly taken some additional steps to make sure that public transport masks are used," NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said.
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"But seated outdoors poses less risk than people perhaps gathering in households to look at the Test.
"This is balancing - but we have got faith in the transport plan and the work Sydney Cricket Ground has done.
"We are looking over the plans as we speak. Anyone who is unwell do not attend the Test."
Meanwhile, Cricket Australia says its biosecurity will be safeguarded against a spike in COVID-19 as NSW reported 18 new locally acquired cases on Wednesday.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has tightened New Year's Eve restrictions, with outdoor gatherings capped at 30 people (down from 50) and households in greater Sydney restricted to just five people.
Nine of the new cases were linked to the Avalon cluster and NSW officials are growing increasingly alarmed at the Croydon cluster.
The announcement of 18 new cases came just 13 hours after the third Test match was locked in at the SCG.
CA chief executive Nick Hockley has backed in his bubble to shield players from the virus when they fly into the hotspot on January 4.
"That's precisely the reason we have our biosecurity protocols, why we have the measures in place and why we're in a bubble in Sydney," Hockley said.
"The arrangements we're putting in place with the Queensland government are such that we can keep the playing cohort and the relevant broadcast crew all safe and move safely into Brisbane so that we can complete the full schedule whilst ensuring we're being responsible and we're keeping the community safe."
The SCG Test begins on January 7 and organisers have been hoping the stadium can safely hold 50 per cent of its capacity.
The Aussies will train at the MCG on January 2 and 3 before jetting into Sydney on a chartered flight with India.
The biosecurity bubble will expand by about 20-30 people as essential TV broadcasters and officials join players and coaches so Queensland Health will permit them to enter Brisbane for the fourth Test at the Gabba.
Cricket Australia initially feared they would have to bring an extra 80-90 people into the bubble, but broadcasters have been able to tap into their national resources to limit the amount of staff required to deliver both the third and fourth Tests.
I really want to go to the Sydney Test, but the message that outdoor gatherings have to be limited to 30 unless they’re at the SCG is a curious one.— Dom Knight (#2020dictionary out now!) (@domknight) December 30, 2020
The fourth Test at the Gabba will be played under quarantine conditions, but Hockley said that would not reduce the crowd size.
"It really comes down to making sure those people within the bubble don't come into contact with people outside of the bubble," he said.
"For players and match officials it's relatively straightforward because they're obviously the only people on the field of play.
"We've got detailed operational plans to make sure those broadcast operatives that need to access the stadium and are under those conditions are also physically segregated."
The AFL staged several games with players in quarantine this year, including Collingwood's elimination final victory against West Coast in front of 32,865 in Perth.
"Our medical team has been a step ahead all summer," Hockley said.
"We have different biosecurity levels depending on the situation in any given city. The protocols in Sydney will be appropriate to the level in NSW at the time.
"The prerequisite to move from Sydney to Brisbane at the moment is a (travel) exemption. That's the work we've been doing with Queensland Health."
Tickets have gone on sale for the SCG Test and Hockley said a COVID-safe crowd capacity would be determined with the government.
Cricket Australia's ambitious proposal to enter the coronavirus hot spot of Sydney had been signed off on by the NSW and Queensland governments.
The Australia-India series will fly into Sydney at 1-1 and organisers are hoping for a 50 per cent cap on crowds when the first ball is bowled.
"NSW inc delivered today," Venues NSW chairman Tony Shepherd told News Corp.
"The government, led by Gladys (Berejiklian) and Venues NSW were united in their determination.
"This great state can do anything when we all pull together.
"Congratulations and thank you to Cricket Australia under the outstanding leadership of (chairman) Earl Eddings, (chief executive) Nick Hockley and the great board."
Queensland's border closure to Greater Sydney and persisting cases of coronavirus stemming from the Avalon outbreak had insiders fearing the match would be relocated to the MCG, which was given approval from the ICC to start preparing another Test pitch.
But Queensland's chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young, at the 11th hour, offered CA travel exemptions to fly from Sydney to Brisbane on strict conditions.
Australia and India players will share a charted flight on January 12 and will be taken straight to a Brisbane hotel, where they must serve hard quarantine.
Players and officials will only be allowed to leave the hotel to visit training facilities and play in the fourth Test, which begins at the Gabba on January 15.
Australia's Test stars are likely to be ruled out of the end of the Big Bash season due to quarantine requirements.
Broadcasters have assured Cricket Australia they can unplug all of their equipment from the MCG and get it ready at the SCG before January 7, which includes installing DRS technology.
Cricket Australia has been working around the clock to save the SCG Test and Hockley has, against all odds, cleared a number of hurdles that appeared certain to trip up the schedule.
The coup is a huge endorsement for Hockley and his chances of acquiring the full-time posting.
"Despite the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am delighted to say Cricket Australia remains on track to deliver the men's international series as scheduled," Hockley said.
"We have met regularly over the past week to assess the unfolding public health situation in Sydney and gauge its impact on border restrictions around the country.
"To date, we have been able to deliver a safe and successful summer thanks to our detailed biosecurity protocols and the amazing work of so many great people behind the scenes.
"To that end, we have made the decision to keep the New Year's Test at the SCG, which has a wonderful recent history of hosting the Pink Test and Jane McGrath Day on the third day of play.
"We are confident that both this match, and the fourth Test in Brisbane, will play out in a safe and successful manner and thus round out what has been a magnificent men's international program this summer.
"We are very grateful to the New South Wales and Queensland Governments for their willingness to work with us to deliver the series as planned in a manner that places the safety and wellbeing of the players, officials, staff and the wider community as its top priority.
"In response to the public health situation in NSW and the requirements of the Queensland Government, CA will put in place appropriate biosecurity measures and we thank all players, staff and broadcasters for their co-operation to play the matches safely.
"We especially thank the BCCI for their continued support of the original schedule, as our respective teams compete in the most enthralling series.
"It must not be forgotten that NSW Government and Sydney Cricket Ground provided exceptional support to bring India's squad safely into the country.
The New Year's miracle will see the SCG awash with pink on January 9 for Jane McGrath Day.
"We are thrilled the Pink Test will still take place at the SCG," Glenn McGrath said.
"It is the home of the Pink Test and the spirit and support of the crowd at the SCG have become a huge part of the Pink Test atmosphere over the past 12 years."
NSW tourism minister Stuart Ayres said the "fantastic result" would see 2021 start with a bang.
"The Sydney Test is such a traditional way to start the New Year and this is the positive news we all needed to hear," Ayres said.
Venues NSW chief executive Kerrie Mather said: "The New Year's Test is our most important event of the year and the one that is most looked forward to by our loyal fans and members. This is just reward for their considerable sacrifices this year."
"The SCG will work closely with the NSW Government and Cricket Australia to maintain its impeccable record in protecting the safety of players, staff, fans and members.
"The New Year's Test is our most important event of the year and the one that is most looked forward to by our loyal fans and members. This is just reward for their considerable sacrifices this year."
Originally published as 'Safer at SCG': NSW Government's staggering Test claim