Premier League on alert after record number of positive coronavirus tests

The Everton v Manchester City match scheduled for Monday was called off at short notice. Photo courtesy: Tony McArdle/Everton FC/Getty Images

(The Guardian): The Premier League and Football League insist they have no plans to pause the season despite nearly 50 matches being postponed since Christmas because of a spike in coronavirus cases.

However, the mounting scale of the problem was again illustrated on Tuesday when the Premier League announced a record 18 new positive tests among players and staff from tests conducted last week – including five at Manchester City, whose game against Everton was called off on Monday night.

Meanwhile the Football League is also investigating why there has been such a sharp rise in cases among its clubs after 10 more matches were postponed on Tuesday night, amid concerns that Covid-19 safety protocols are not proving as watertight as envisaged.

The EFL has also urged clubs to take another look at their safety protocols to ensure players and staff do not congregate in small spaces indoors, and to see whether they can hold more meetings remotely. Clubs have also been asked to use more coaches for away games to lessen the chance of the virus spreading.

Despite the rise in cases both the Premier League and EFL have told the Guardian there are no plans to pause or suspend the season. Meanwhile a government source confirmed it currently had no plans to change its guidance for elite sport despite the UK posting its highest daily number of coronavirus cases on Monday.

As cases continue to surge across the country, the football calendar is likely to be further hit in the coming days. Eight more games have been called off this weekend, and there are fears that the third round of the FA Cup will also be significantly hit.

As things stand the EFL does not test its players regularly but relies more on them reporting symptoms and on contract tracing. But from next Monday it will begin its next wave of mandatory testing on players in the Championship, League One and League Two. That is likely to flag up more cases just before the FA Cup third round is due to kick off on 8 January.

Meanwhile Chelsea are still waiting to hear whether their Premier League match against Manchester City will take place on Sunday. Their FA Cup tie against Morecambe the following weekend is also in doubt after the League Two club was forced to call off their next two matches.

League One clubs Doncaster Rovers and Rochdale have also been forced to postpone their next two and three games respectively due to positive Covid-19 tests, while there have also been cases at Sunderland, Peterborough, Ipswich Town and Millwall.

Everton’s game against Manchester City was the second Premier League match to be called off this season because of positive tests for coronavirus, following on from the Aston Villa v Newcastle match this month.

However in a statement on Monday night, the Premier League insisted it continued to have “full confidence in its protocols and rules, and the way in which all clubs are implementing them”.

Southampton, meanwhile, confirmed on Tuesday that the manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl, would not be in the dugout for their evening game against West Ham at St Mary’s.

In a statement the club said: “A member of Ralph’s household tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday [28 December], and in keeping with the club’s usual protocols and government guidance, Ralph is currently self-isolating whilst we assess the situation further.

“Ralph will manage this evening’s game from home and will remain in contact with the team and coaching staff throughout the game via a video and audio link.”