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Coronavirus outbreaks at Premier League clubs raise concerns about games continuing

Coronavirus outbreaks at English football clubs have raised concerns about games continuing, with the highest number of cases reported across Premier League clubs in a single week — reflecting a sharp rise in infections across the country.

A goal post is sprayed with disinfectant before an English Premier League match. Source: Associated Press

There were 18 positives after 1,479 tests on players and club staff from December 21-27, the Premier League said today.

Sheffield United followed Manchester City in announcing an outbreak of virus cases at the club with players and backroom staff testing positive, but its game against Burnley was still played on Tuesday.

“I want to play, that’s how it is — we are not looking to get anything canned,” Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder said ahead of kickoff. “It’s not an ideal situation but we are not in a club of one. It's picking up and running through football clubs.”

Manchester City had previously announced that striker Gabriel Jesus and defender Kyle Walker tested positive last week. Further positives cases at City led to Monday's game at Everton being postponed.

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl will miss today’s game against West Ham after a member of his household tested positive for Covid-19. Southampton said Hasenhüttl will begin self-isolating “whilst we assess the situation further.”

The league was testing players and staff twice a week last season, but reduced that to once a week this campaign. However, after the government expressed concerns two weeks ago about a new, more transmissible variant of the virus that was first identified in southeast England, clubs around London started testing twice weekly again.

The previous highest number of coronavirus cases after weekly testing in the Premier League was 16 last month.

The first wave of the pandemic led to the Premier League being paused from March to June last season. This season had been spared disruption since it began in September until two games were called off this month, which will spark concerns about the need for more postponements or a break in the competition.

The rise in infections reflects the growth in coronavirus cases across Britain, where the death toll since the pandemic erupted in March is over 70,000. More than 50,000 cases were reported in a single day for the first time on Tuesday, and the number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients has surpassed the first peak of the outbreak in April.

The return of fans to stadiums has already been rolled back with Liverpool and Everton the only Premier League clubs allowed 2,000 spectators.

The spread of infections is particularly impacting the lower professional divisions, with seven out of 12 games in League One on Tuesday postponed. Medics at eastern club Ipswich and northwest side Rochdale have called for the competition to be halted.

Rochdale club doctor Wes Tensel is particularly concerned about players traveling while the country is subject to varying coronavirus restrictions, which in London are closer to a lockdown.

“If the government were to put us in another lockdown like we had with the very first one where it was just essential travel, then football should also stop as well," Tensel said. “If they carry on with tiers, the fact that everything the government have done so far the cases are still increasing, I would have thought football probably should be postponed.

“Footballers traveling around the country are not causing spikes in different tiers but they can still pass it on to their loved ones because the football bubble they are in bursts every time they go home."