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Auckland COVID outbreak hits cricket, sailing, rugby

The fourth Twenty20 cricket international between New Zealand and Australia has been shifted and the first weekend of racing in the America’s Cup sailing match has been postponed after new COVID-19 cases were reported in Auckland on Saturday.

Auckland was placed in limited lockdown for seven days from 6 a.m. Sunday with travel restrictions into and out of New Zealand’s largest city, strict limits on public gatherings, and a ban on sports events.

The third Australia-New Zealand T20 is due to be played in Wellington on Wednesday and the fourth match of the five-match series will also be played in that city on Friday, both without crowds.

Australia's Josh Philippe bats during the second T20 cricket international between Australia and New Zealand at University Oval In Dunedin, New Zealand, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andrew CornagaPhotosport via AP)

While Auckland is at alert level 3, the rest of New Zealand is at level 2 which has fewer restrictions but limits public gatherings to 100 people.

The last T20 of the series is due to be at Tauranga on March 7 and might be able to be played with crowds if New Zealand moves back to level 1.

The alert level changes were announced late Saturday after two new coronavirus cases were located in the community which could not directly be linked to earlier cases. Auckland recently returned to level 1 after a small community cluster of infections.

The Australia cricket team reportedly had already been reluctant to travel to Auckland because doing so likely would have required players to quarantine on their return home.

The 36th match for the America’s Cup between Team New Zealand and Italy’s Luna Rossa was due to begin on March 6 but the first weekend of racing now has been postponed. America's Cup Events chairwoman Tina Symmans said the decision had been made early to give participants "some certainty in planning.

“ACE has always said that it wishes to hold as much of the racing under level 1 restrictions as possible," Symmans said. "But to be prudent, ACE will apply for an exemption to race under Level 3 restrictions so as to keep as many options open as possible.

"However, racing will not occur before at least Wednesday, March 10. We need to understand all likely scenarios so that an updated racing schedule can be put in place whilst also ensuring the regulatory requirements are met.”

Races in the America’s Cup challenger series took place this month without crowds when Auckland was at level 2. A government exemption would be needed and strict protocols would have to be in place for racing to take place at level 3.

Auckland’s popular Round the Bays run, which attracts tens of thousands of participants, was canceled on Sunday.

“We respect the need to keep everyone safe and contain the spread of COVID-19,” organizers said.

In Super Rugby, the Auckland-based Blues beat the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday and will base themselves outside of their home city until the alert level changes. The team is unable to train at level 3.

Coach Leon Macdonald said the Blues would “look at all options” on a base for at least the next seven days. Other matches in the New Zealand competition will be played without crowds at level 2.

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