The rapid escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past month has led the British and Irish Lions rugby union team to reconsider its test series of South Africa.

In response to the recent international surge in coronavirus cases, a contingency plan has been developed which would see the matches take place in the UK and Ireland instead.

Other options include holding the 2021 tour in South Africa behind closed doors or postponing the series altogether until 2022.

Initially, the Lions were due to play a warm-up match against Japan on 26 June, which has already been scheduled at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield stadium.

The team would then journey to South Africa to start the tour, with the first match held on 3 July in Cape Town against the Stormers.

If the contingency plan were to be approved, the games would be relocated to London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Dublin, with the Millennium Stadium, Twickenham and Wembley already confirmed as venues.

The idea of games in empty stadiums has not been greeted with enthusiasm. The South African Rugby Union in particular has spoken out against the idea, as matches without attendees would not be financially viable for the organisation.

Both unions, however, are hopeful that fans could return to stadiums by the summer as the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be rolled out.

Ben Calveley, Managing Director of the Lions, commented: “As you would expect, we are progressing with our plans based on the latest information available to us.

“However, given the uncertainty that continues to be caused by the coronavirus pandemic both in South Africa, as well as the UK and Ireland, we are very aware of the need to make a timely decision on the best way forward; not least so that we can provide clarity to supporters booked to travel to South Africa next summer, or those thinking of making the trip.

“To date, the Lions Board has had repeated meetings to discuss all scenarios available and is in constant dialogue.

“It will meet throughout January and into February, if required, to review all relevant information and data.

“After further consultation with SA Rugby, we will update on the outcome of these meetings in due course.”