Ashes 2021-22: Crowds at full capacity expected for Boxing Day Test

The Ashes Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) will have crowds allowed up to full capacity – roughly 90,000 – despite the severe threat of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, Victoria’s acting premier James Merlino confirmed on Tuesday (December 21).

That said, all the visitors have been instructed to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour, not least because Melbourne has been recording above 1500 cases each day. With the MCG Test set to be the largest mass gathering in the country ever since the start of the pandemic, any laxity would understandably multiply the catastrophe.

Melbourne Cricket Club chief executive Stuart Fox on Wednesday stated that he is expecting a turn out of close to 70,000 based on the ticket sales thus far. “Given the sales to date, we’re expecting 70,000,” Fox was quoted by the Guardian.

“We’ve got the stadium prepped, a lot of protocols in place for Boxing Day, and we can’t wait to welcome fans back to cricket,” he said. “Huge build-up, we’re just keen to get going.”

The Guardian report confirms that the protocols include “checks for vaccination certificates at the gate, QR codes on entry and at some restaurants in the Members Reserve, cashless systems at bars and restaurants, and no entry for children under 12 unless accompanied by a vaccinated adult.”

“We’re all used to wearing masks, and we’d encourage everyone to bring a mask at this point, and when you’re in congested areas we’d encourage you to wear it,” Fox said.

While the return of crowds to a full capacity is a motivating sign amidst the pandemic gloom, Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged people to use common sense, while also strongly recommending the use of masks and following the protocols stringently.

Nancy Baxter, head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, suggested that it would be best to avoid an event of the magnitude of the Boxing Day Test in the current situation, but reckoned that if it is going ahead, the attendees cannot let the guard down.

“If they’re going ahead then masks should be used,” Baxter said. “No one is personally responsible for a pandemic. Scott Morrison used the analogy of skin cancer. My use of sunscreen doesn’t affect your risk of skin cancer. My wearing a mask affects your chances of contracting Covid. It’s a long day, people will eat and drink, which means that even people who are wearing masks will take them off. People will be shouting, people will be breathing each other’s air. If it’s important for people in Melbourne, if we want a safe event that everyone can enjoy – we probably shouldn’t be having the event, but we for sure should be wearing masks.”

Australia currently lead the five-match series 2-0, after victories in Brisbane and Adelaide. After Melbourne, the caravan moves to Sydney for the New Year’s Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, beginning January 5 before the series finale in Hobart from January 14.