West Indies' women's team are struggling to return home from Zimbabwe ©Getty Images

Travel chaos caused by a new COVID-19 variant has left teams struggling to return home from Zimbabwe after the final qualifier for the International Cricket Council (ICC) Women’s Cricket World Cup was cancelled.

The ICC decided to bring the tournament to a premature end on Saturday (November 27) in response to the emergence of a highly transmissible strain of coronavirus detected in southern Africa.

The United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union have suspended travel from Zimbabwe as well as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa in a bid to combat the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization has warned that the variant poses a "very high" risk, adding that consequences "may be severe" if "another major surge of COVID-19 takes place driven by Omicron".

West Indies defeated Ireland by six wickets on November 23 in the qualifiers but both sides now face travel issues.

Cricket West Indies (CWI) and Cricket Ireland have confirmed they are working with the ICC to find ways out of Zimbabwe.

"The dialogue has been ongoing," said Jimmy Adams, director of cricket for the CWI in a report by the Jamaica Observer.

"It's not a nice situation but we back our management team down there and we're in constant contact with them.

"We're also, through them, getting as much information as quickly as we can about potential routings back home - how best, how quickly, what would the logistics be.

"I don't want to predict but I think we're going to probably have another couple of days where it is pretty much going to be 24 hours around the clock in terms of communication but we're in constant contact with them."

Six Sri Lanka players have tested positive for coronavirus ©Getty Images
Six Sri Lanka players have tested positive for coronavirus ©Getty Images

According to the Belfast Telegraph, Ireland flew from Zimbabwe to Namibia yesterday courtesy of help from the ICC.

"They will hopefully soon learn the way forward from there," a Cricket Ireland spokesperson said.

"The repatriation home is being conducted by the ICC, and they are currently working out the best route home."

The tournament was set to determine the final three places at next year’s Women’s Cricket World Cup.

Bangladesh, Ireland, The Netherlands, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United States and West Indies had all travelled to Zimbabwe to compete in the event, scheduled to conclude on December 5.

Papua New Guinea had been forced to withdraw after several players tested positive for COVID-19.

Just 11 matches had been completed before the ICC called off the tournament as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

It has been confirmed that six Sri Lanka players have returned positive COVID-19 results.

Several countries have banned flights from southern African nations, including Zimbabwe ©Getty Images
Several countries have banned flights from southern African nations, including Zimbabwe ©Getty Images

Chris Tetley, head of events for the ICC, said he was "incredibly disappointed" to have to cancel the event but added that there was a "serious risk" teams would be unable to return home.

"We have explored a number of options to allow us to complete the event but it isn't feasible and we will fly the teams out of Zimbabwe as soon as possible," said Tetley.

West Indies, Bangladesh and Pakistan have now qualified for the World Cup, scheduled to be held in New Zealand from March 4 to April 3 next year, based on their current world rankings.

Courtney Walsh, head coach of the West Indies’ women’s team, backed the decision made by the ICC to pull the plug on the qualifier.

"Yes it’s disappointing that the tournament had to be cancelled," Walsh told Jamaica Observer.

"I’m sure all the teams here participating would be disappointed as it is a chance to put all your skills on show and especially the teams vying to get to the World Cup, there’s going to be disappointment.

"I think the right decision was taken by not putting the teams at risk, especially with the recent developments happening.

"We are obviously delighted that we have qualified and that we will be there at the World Cup next year.

"The girls are very happy because that was one of the missions we wanted to fulfil when we left the Caribbean."