- Will Martin
The Premier League could be halted as the coronavirus forces games to be canceled
The Premier League could be halted as the coronavirus forces games to be canceled, and insiders are complaining of an embarrassing lack of contingency plans
The English Premier League has been thrown into turmoil by a spate of coronavirus cases, which have caused one game to be postponed and have led to fears that the season may need to be paused or even cut short.
A game between two of the league's high-flyers, Everton and Manchester City, was called off just four hours before kickoff Monday after multiple players from the Manchester squad were found to have contracted the virus.
On Wednesday, the situation worsened when another game — between Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur — was postponed because of positive cases in the Fulham squad. Manchester City's coming game against Chelsea on Sunday and cup game against Manchester United next Wednesday are also thought to be at risk. As games come under threat, the number of cases in and around the Premier League is rising. Late Tuesday evening, the league announced that its latest round of testing identified 18 positive cases from 1,479 tests taken. That is a case rate of roughly 1,216 positives per 100,000 tests and is the most cases found in any round of testing by the league.
Manchester City, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, and Sheffield United have all confirmed cases within their organizations in recent days.
The rise in cases in the Premier League comes as the UK struggles to contain a new variant of coronavirus, which is believed to spread much more rapidly than the original variant. On Tuesday, the UK reported 53,135 new cases of COVID-19, a single-day record, and 414 new deaths. The specific numbers could reflect lags in reporting from Christmas, but cases have been trending upward throughout December.
A 'circuit breaker' in the Premier League?
It was reported by The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that league authorities had considered a two-week "cooling-off" period in January to try to halt the spread of the virus in the league. West Bromwich Albion manager Sam Allardyce, who took the job only this month, said after his side was defeated 5-0 by Leeds United on Tuesday that he would approve of a temporary halt to the season. "Everybody's safety is more important than anything else," he said at a press conference after the match. "When I listen to the news that the variant virus transmits 70%, 60% quicker than the original virus, then we can only do the right thing, which would be to have a circuit breaker," he added, referring to estimates from health experts and politicians about the spread of the new variant.
"If that's what we need to do, that's what we need to do."
Allardyce said that while most players would most likely overcome the virus, he might fare differently. "I am 66 years old, and the last thing I want to do is catch COVID," he said. "All the players will overcome it, but it will be more difficult for me if I caught it." Several other managers in the league — including Marcelo Bielsa of Leeds, and Carlo Ancelotti of Everton — are over 60, while Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson is in his 70s, putting them all at greater risk of more severe illness.
Not all managers are on board, however, with Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dismissing the idea, saying: "I'm not sure if stopping playing football will make a difference."
Allardyce's comments after the game Tuesday came shortly before ESPN reported sources as saying Premier League authorities did not have a contingency plan in place if the league had to be postponed or even abandoned entirely — a scenario that still seems highly unlikely.
"The Premier League does not have a plan in place for a curtailment of the 2020-21 season if an escalation in positive COVID-19 tests leads to the campaign being halted," ESPN's Mark Ogden wrote Tuesday evening. Ogden added that one source at a Premier League club described the lack of such a plan as "embarrassing."
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