A report claims that Premier League clubs are contemplating a two week break in January as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in England due to the new variant of the coronavirus.
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Multiple outbreaks at multiple clubs has caused concerns and according to The Telegraph, multiple Premier League owners have discussed a two-week break in January after the FA Cup third round to try and stop the spread of COVID-19 cases.
Per the report, the FA Cup games are of particular concern as the lower leagues of English soccer have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 as testing is less frequent at that level.
The latest Premier League COVID-19 test results were released on December 29 and there were 18 positives results from 1,479 players and staff tested between December 21-27.
That figure is the highest number of positive results for testing this season, but the rate of 1.22 percent of positive results is slightly lower than the 16 cases found in the 9-15 November testing window, which came out at 1.33 percent in positive results.
These figures will be concerning as two games have been postponed in December due COVID-19 outbreaks at Premier League clubs Newcastle United and most recently Manchester City, while Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl is self-isolating after a positive test in his household and Sheffield United have revealed a significant outbreak in their squad.
Manchester City’s trip to Everton was postponed on December 28, and City have closed their training ground to players and staff to try and stop the outbreak. On Christmas Day it was announced that Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker tested positive, along with two staff members, while City have had further positive results since.
What happens now?
The Premier League has stepped up testing efforts at clubs located in Tier 4 (the highest level of restrictions) areas in England as a new strain of coronavirus is having a huge impact in large parts of the country as the UK government believe it is up to 70 percent more transmissible.
Over the summer all staff at Premier League clubs were tested twice per week, but from the start of the 2020-21 season testing was reduced to once per week.
The league previously stated that it would constantly review rules around testing and would adjust when appropriate. Initially the six teams located in Tier 4 will go back to being tested twice per week, but the other 14 PL teams located in other tiers will also be tested twice per week from January.
Speaking from personal experience of being in empty stadiums and attending games during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Premier League and its clubs have gone above and beyond to create safe environments and everyone is following the protocols safely.
Here are the results from the COVID-19 tests at Premier League clubs since the 2020-21 season began.
Round 1: 31 Aug-6 Sep – 1,605 tested, with three testing positive.
Round 2: 7-13 Sep – 2,131 tested, with four testing positive.
Round 3: 14-20 Sep – 1,574 tested, with three testing positive.
Round 4: 21-27 Sep – 1,595 tested, with 10 testing positive.
Round 5: 28 Sep-4 Oct – 1,587 tested, with nine testing positive.
Round 6: 5-11 Oct – 1,128 tested, with five testing positive.
Round 7: 12-18 Oct – 1,575 tested, with eight testing positive.
Round 8: 19-25 Oct – 1,609 tested, with two testing positive.
Round 9: 26 Oct-1 Nov – 1,446 tested, with four testing positive.
Round 10: 2-8 Nov – 1,646 tested, with four testing positive.
Round 11: 9-15 Nov – 1,207 tested, with 16 testing positive.
Round 12: 16-22 Nov – 1,530 tested, with eight testing positive.
Round 13: 23-29 Nov – 1,381 tested, with 10 testing positive.
Round 14: 30 Nov-6 Dec – 1,483 tested, with 14 testing positive.
Round 15: 7-13 Dec – 1,549 tested, with six testing positive.
Round 16: 14-20 Dec – 1,569 tested, with seven testing positive.
What does this mean for the season?
With a handful of games now having to be rearranged due to COVID-19 outbreak, there are still a few weeks where games can be made up in early 2021.
As of right now, the situation can be handled but if a few more teams have to shut down their training grounds and postpone games, scheduling starts to become a lot trickier with FA Cup, League Cup and European games added into the mix, plus the fact that major international tournaments are kicking off in early June.
The Premier League board will always make the final decision on whether or not to postpone games, but guidance for the 2020-21 season stated that clubs should play games if they have at least 14 players fit and available. Of course, in a situation where there is a COVID-19 outbreak and you aren’t sure how much it has spread through a group of players and staff, it is better to be overcautious and postpone games rather than risk worsening the situation.
All it takes is a few more outbreak to really see things spiral out of control.
With cases reaching record levels in the UK, particular in London and the South East of England where almost half of the Premier League’s teams are located, perhaps even stricter measures will have to put in place to make sure the season can finish as planned.