The match, and the remainder of the series, was plunged into doubt after news that the virus had made its way into England’s wider travelling group but a full round of PCR testing was completed on Monday with no further positives among the playing group.
It is understood there are now six confirmed cases within the England party, which has swelled to over 60 during the Christmas period, comprising three of the backroom team and three family members. But with the playing groups both getting the all-clear, the third Test match at the MCG was allowed to continue unaffected.
A statement issued by Cricket Australia read: “Players from the Australian and England teams all had PCR Covid-19 tests after play (on Monday) and all results have come back negative.
“The families of both sets of players also had PCR tests (on Monday) and all returned a negative test.
“The England team’s support staff and their family members who tested positive after PCR tests yesterday are in isolation.”
The heightened state of alert means testing is likely to continue at an increased rate now, with the family group expected to take follow-up tests on Tuesday.
The current Ashes schedule remains unchanged for now – with the New Year’s Test in Sydney set to begin on January 5, followed by the series finale in Hobart from January 14. Both teams are due to share a charter flight from Melbourne to New South Wales at the conclusion of the current match and will have exclusive access to a hotel in Sydney.
There are likely to be ongoing discussions between the respective boards governing restrictions around player movement, with protocols currently at level 4, which stops short of a dreaded ‘bubble’ environment but does not allow individuals to eat or shop indoors.
Discussions have been taking place between England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison, who linked up with the side this week, his Cricket Australia counterpart Nick Hockley and local health officials in Victoria.
When news of the first confirmed case broke early yesterday morning, England were initially advised to stay away from the ground but, after all players received negative rapid antigen results, play went ahead with only a half-hour delay.
Both teams adopted more stringent measures around the shared dressing room spaces but there was no attempt at distancing on the field of play, as each team celebrated wickets with the usual embraces rather than the fist bumps which became common earlier in the pandemic.
England bowler James Anderson spoke after play, insisting the will existed to continue with the scheduled five Tests – provided there was good news from the laboratory.
The tourists are now well versed in the possible outcomes, having cancelled two overseas trips in 2020 – a Test tour of Sri Lanka and a white-ball visit to South Africa – and seen India walk out of the deciding Old Trafford Test last summer.
“As long as the group that’s at the ground are negative I don’t see why we can’t carry on,” Anderson said. “I’m sure that’s the plan but it depends on PCR tests and what situation that leaves us in. We’ll have to wait and see what the results are.”
Hockley had earlier addressed the situation shortly after play got under way.
“Everyone now is on high alert, everyone is being extra cautious,” he said. “We just need to stay calm, get the facts, everyone needs to follow medical advice and, on that basis, we keep going.”