December 30 – The Covid-19 pandemic, accelerated by a fast-spreading new variant of the virus, is threatening to decimate the English Premier League once again after a second fixture was called off at the 11th hour.
A record number of 18 players and staff tested positive between December 21 and 27, the most in a single week this season, with Manchester City’s game at Everton two days ago the latest top-flight casualty while a raft of lower-league fixtures have also been called off.
City’s training ground was closed as a precaution and their game at Chelsea this Sunday is in doubt, with Chelsea boss Frank Lampard saying the match will not go ahead if it is unsafe for both teams.
The Everton-City postponement was the second this season after an outbreak at Newcastle United forced the league to call off their match at Aston Villa earlier this month.
Bottom side Sheffield United reported a number of fresh cases in their camp while Arsenal said their Brazilian defender Gabriel had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be available for their next two matches.
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuettl was absent from Tuesday’s home game against West Ham United after he had to self-isolate due to a positive COVID-19 test in his household while no fewer than 10 Football League matches were postponed over Christmas.
The United Kingdom has recorded more than 2.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 71,000 deaths. Countries across the globe shut their borders to the country last week due to fears about the highly infectious new variant.
There are increasing calls for a two-week circuit break next month to slow the virus spread and Premier League chairmen have reportedly discussed informally the possibility.
West Bromwich Albion’s new manager Sam Allardyce is one of those who wants to call a halt.
“Everyone’s safety is more important than anything else,” Allardyce said. “When I listen to the news the variant virus transmits quicker than the original virus [so] we can only do the right thing which is have a circuit break.
“I am 66 years old and the last thing I want to do is catch Covid. I’m very concerned for myself and football in general. If that’s what needs to be done we need to do it.”
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