SYDNEY: England's beleaguered Ashes tour went from bad to worse Thursday with under-pressure coach Chris Silverwood to miss the fourth Test in Sydney after a family member tested positive for the coronavirus.
Silverwood and his family have to isolate in Melbourne for 10 days while the rest of the team heads to Sydney for the clash starting on January 5.
The touring party has now registered seven positive cases -- three support staff and four family members -- since a PCR testing regime was implemented on Monday after the virus was first detected during the Boxing Day Test.
"A fourth successive round of PCR tests will be administered today," the England Cricket Board said in a statement, adding that the team would share a charter flight with Australia to Sydney on Friday.
Australian reports said England fast bowling coach Jon Lewis, spin coach Jeetan Patel and strength and conditioning boss Darren Veness were also believed to be in isolation.
Batting coach Graham Thorpe is expected to take over as head coach in the interim.
It is another major setback for England on a tour where little has gone right, suffering three heavy defeats in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne to ensure Australia retained the hallowed Ashes urn with two Tests still to play.
And the timing could not have been worse for Silverwood, whose job is widely seen as on the line.
Joe Root's captaincy has also been criticised, but fast-bowler Chris Woakes insisted he had the support of the players.
"Absolutely. Joe is a great cricketer, he's got a great cricket brain and I think his record as England captain is actually pretty good," he told English media.
"Definitely it feels like Joe will continue. Hopefully he will. It's clear that the captaincy isn't having an effect on his batting, which a lot of the time with captains can be the case."
Root will overtake predecessor Alastair Cook's record of 59 Tests at the helm when he leads the side out in Sydney.
Australia has experienced a surge in Covid cases in recent weeks, with an Omicron variant outbreak centred in Sydney that on Thursday recorded more than 12,000 cases.
In New South Wales, where Sydney is located, anyone considered a close contact is supposed to isolate for seven days, but authorities have pledged the rules would not impact the "sacred" Ashes.
"The SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) Test is sacred, an important date at the start of the third year of our life with Covid-19," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said this week.
"I want to assure the cricket-loving public, under our rules, any players with exposure to a known case of Covid-19 would be asked to test and isolate only until a negative result was received."
Cricket Australia chief Nick Hockley was adamant the Test will go ahead.
"We've got very robust Covid-safe plans that are led by the venues working closely with the health authorities," he told broadcaster ABC, with crowds of some 35,000 expected for the first few days.
"As long as everyone follows the advice, I think people can come in the knowledge they're going to be safe."
The fifth and final Test is in Hobart, where there have been far fewer Covid cases than Sydney.