All amateur club rugby has been suspended in South Africa with immediate effect, just 24 hours after the British and Irish Lions touched down to begin their tour of the country.

There is no suggestion that the Lions’ matches, which are due to start on Saturday with an encounter against Emirates Lions in Johannesburg, will be affected.

Fixtures in elite provincial competitions such as the Currie Cup are to continue with “strict adherence to all relevant protocols”.

However, the measure, which comes in response to Sunday’s introduction of level four protocols to combat the spread of Covid-19 as the Delta variant drives a third wave of infections, provides another stark reminder of the backdrop to this tour.

Quoted in a statement from SA Rugby on Tuesday morning, chief executive Jurie Roux described the approach as “proactive” and “safety first”.

“Even though the Government Gazette allows for club rugby to continue, all provincial unions have halted club and amateur rugby proactively and we are very grateful of this approach of safety first,” he said.

“I want to compliment all the role players – including the administrators, coaches and players – for taking responsibility to halt club and amateur rugby due to the resurgence of Covid-19 in recent weeks.

“Ultimately, the health, safety and wellbeing of our players, coaches, officials and others comes first. We will reassess the situation after 11 July, even though most of the club leagues have already been halted beyond that date.”

On Monday afternoon, it was announced that the Currie Cup match between Cheetahs and Toyota Cheetahs and Vodacom Bulls, whom the Lions are due to face on July 10, had been cancelled.

The Cheetahs were not able to field a front row for the game, which was scheduled for Wednesday, due to a positive Covid-19 test.

  • Lions in South Africa: Match dates, times and latest squad news

What is the Covid situation in South Africa?

The country is in the midst of a third wave with the spread of infection accelerating as the Delta variant of the virus has become more prominent. On Sunday, the seven-day rolling average of new infections surpassed 15,000 per day and the government has imposed level four restrictions for a 14-day period. These include a ban on alcohol sales as well as indoor and outdoor gatherings, except for funerals, and the introduction of a 9pm-4am curfew.

Is it bad where the Lions are going?

The Lions flew into Johannesburg on Sunday evening. Gauteng, the province where they are staying until they move to Cape Town ahead of their fourth match against South Africa A, has been the worst hit. Travel in and out of the area for leisure has been prohibited under the new regulations.

What happens if matches are cancelled? 

There is still a determination to play all eight matches, but no contingencies for rearranging cancelled fixtures.

Can the tour still be moved?

Spokesmen from both the Lions and South Africa outlined on Monday that the current schedule would not be amended until at least later in the week. However, reports have indicated that the Test series could be staged in Cape Town. Currently, the series is due to move to Johannesburg for the last two matches after opening in Cape Town.