Vernon Philander, the former South Africa quick who is a bowling consultant with the Pakistan team currently on tour in Bangladesh, will leave the squad bubble in Chattogram tomorrow, the fourth day of the ongoing first Test, and fly back early on Tuesday because of the "shutdown of flight operations" in his home country following the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant there.
Philander was, in any case, scheduled to leave for South Africa at the end of the first of two Tests, but, as a PCB media statement said at the end of the third day's play on Sunday, he has had to change his plans because of the worsening Covid-19 situation. Concerns around a new variant, called Omicron, has already disrupted the cricket schedule in South Africa, and could impact it further in the coming days.
After South Africa and Netherlands had to split points because of the weather in the first ODI of their series, the second and third games were postponed, and in nearby Zimbabwe, the women's ODI World Cup qualifying event had to be called off - and subsequently cancelled altogether - following travel restrictions being imposed on large parts of southern Africa. An India A team is currently on tour in South Africa, and that series is going to continue as planned, because India has so far not imposed any restrictions on travel to and from southern Africa.
The senior Indian men's side is also scheduled to travel to South Africa in December for a series of three Tests, three ODIs and four T20Is, and the status of that tour is also, for the moment, unchanged. But if the borders close between now and December 8-9, when the Indians are expected to fly out, the prospect of the tour taking place will be severely diminished.
News of the Omicron variant became public on Tuesday, November 23, and cases in the Gauteng province of South Africa, where the Netherlands series was taking place, have increased several-fold since. Although South Africa is reporting around 2000 new cases a day, there are concerns this will rise exponentially and stricter regulations are due to be introduced soon. South Africa is currently on Level 1 of 5 of its restrictions, the most lenient since the pandemic began, and the Netherlands ODI was the first time since March 2020 that cricket was played in front of a limited crowd.