England players have been instructed not to sign autographs or pose for selfies with fans during their Test tour of Sri Lanka in an attempt to protect the squad from coronavirus.
The England team have been on the island – which recorded its second confirmed case overnight – since last week and have stepped up precautions before the first Test in Galle next Thursday.
Between 3,000-5,000 supporters, many of them retired, are due to fly to Sri Lanka and they have been warned the usual level of interaction they have come to expect with the players has been affected by medical advice.
Joe Root’s side are typically happy to sign shirts and bats as well as appearing in photographs but have been instructed to keep their distance from those arriving from the United Kingdom. Interactions with the media have already been impacted, with a two-metre buffer zone implemented for any group interviews.
A statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board said: “Due to the ongoing situation regarding the current coronavirus outbreak around the world, the England men’s Test team, currently touring Sri Lanka, kindly requests all supporters joining the tour to maintain good levels of hygiene as advised by the World Health Organisation and the NHS, to avoid possible infection and spreading.
“The touring party is now taking positive steps to reduce the risk of its health by limiting public engagements for its players and management team. England players and staff have been asked to avoid any unnecessary public engagements, and temporarily avoid casual supporter interaction such as selfies or autographs.
“While we acknowledge that this will be disappointing for some supporters, we stress that this a measure to protect the ongoing well-being of the England Test squad and is a decision which has not been taken lightly. Following the world health agency’s advice, and in order to protect the players and, in turn, the integrity and continuation of the Sri Lanka Test tour, the team has put in place several precautions, leading to a number of normal activities being cancelled for the foreseeable future.”
Handshakes with squad members, officials and opposition players were already banned, with fist bumps the new preferred greeting.
England are preparing for a first-class warmup fixture against a President’s XI on Thursday, when they are hoping to play a full-strength side in preparation for the series opener.
There are a couple of question marks – with a late check due on the calf injury that kept Jack Leach out of the previous tour match and a three-way race between Sam Curran, Chris Woakes and Saqib Mahmood for one seam bowling spot.