The recent surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the spread of the Omicron variant is hitting the Premier League hard with a growing number of clubs experiencing outbreaks that have forced the postponement of muliple matches.
Four Premier League games have already been called off and other clubs have seen more positive tests come back for staff and squad members – so what are the new Premier League rules regarding COVID-19 and will there be more postponements?
These are the latest updates on the developing situation around the league.
Premier League games cancelled due to COVID-19
Tottenham’s fixture against Brighton, originally due to be played on Dec. 12, was the first Premier League game this season to have been postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak experienced by Spurs.
Manchester United’s clash with Brentford set for Dec. 14 was also postponed a few days later with the Red Devils confirming that several first-team staff and players tested positive for the virus, leading to first-team operations at the Carrington training ground to be ceased. Man United’s match at Brighton on Saturday, Dec. 18 is also at risk.
Burnley vs. Watford (Dec. 15) was scratched due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Watford’s camp, and a day later it was Tottenham vs. Leicester City (Dec. 16) that was cancelled after the Foxes didn’t have enough players to play the match. Both decisions were made by the Premier League board just hours before kickoff.
Which Premier League clubs have positive COVID cases?
Leicester City joined a growing group of Premier League teams managing through a host of positive cases. The Foxes already had to travel to Italy without several players on Dec. 9 for a Europa League group game against Napoli. The Foxes lost the match 3-2 to drop into the Conference League knockout playoffs.
With the COVID issues in the squad persisting, manager Brendan Rodgers pleaded earlier in the week for the Dec. 16 Premier League match at Tottenham to be postponed, but officials did not grant the request at first. The cancellation only came on the day the match was to be played:
🎙 “When we needed support with the extreme situation we were in, we weren’t able to get that.”
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 15, 2021
After cancelling training on Dec. 12, Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard revealed the next day that there were “a couple of staff members and a couple of players”, but he iterated that the majority tested negative. Villa’s match on Dec. 14 was played on schedule and the team won the match 2-0.
Brighton manager Graham Potter revealed there were “three or four” positive cases at Brighton, while Norwich coach Dean Smith said he had one player who was in isolation.
According to a Reuters report on Dec. 13, there were a single-week record 42 new cases among Premier League players and staff from Dec. 6-12. That number is sure to balloon given the new reports.
With teams forced to navigate the challenges caused by the outbreaks, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp made the case for greater transparency on numbers and players affected:
Meanwhile, Brentford manager Thomas Frank asked the Premier League to suspend matches for the weekend of Dec. 18-19 to give clubs an opportunity to get a handle on the situation.
Premier League rules on postponing matches due to COVID-19
The Premier League handbook itself states that the league’s board can “only permit the rearrangement or postponement of a league match in exceptional circumstances”.
Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis for each club, and there are no set rules that will determine whether or not a fixture will get cancelled. According to the league, sporting and medical factors are taken into account in each of these decisions.
Been alerted to Premier League handbook, which states if both clubs have 14 players (mainly outfielders) available then the fixture should be played. Safety and welfare is, of course, factored into decision-making regarding Covid cases as well.
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) December 15, 2021
Following the cancellation of Brentford vs Man United match, the Premier League stated that it would take new “emergency measures” to combat the further spread of COVID-19, with the league’s players and staff now having to take a lateral flow test every day in order to access training grounds.
In addition to the daily tests to get into training grounds, players and staff are now taking a PCR test at least twice a week.
It is expected that additional measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing will continue to be enforced. The Premier League released the following statement upon Man Utd cancelling their fixture against Brentford:
“With the health of players and staff the priority, and in light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, the Premier League has reintroduced Emergency Measures. These include protocols such as more frequent testing, wearing face coverings while indoors, observing social distancing and limiting treatment time.”
COVID-19 situation in the UK
The spike in positive cases comes at a time when the United Kingdom has been facing yet another COVID-19 outbreak with the new Omicron variant.
The Premier League confirmed that as of October, 69 per cent of players had been fully vaccinated, with 81 per cent having received their first dose.
But concerns remain with those who choose to stay unvaccinated, while booster jabs continue to be implemented in the country for those eligible.
For fans attending matches in England, they will have to produce proof of double vaccination or a negative test to go to events with crowds that exceed 10,000 people.