Premier League not planning for Covid circuit break despite raft of postponements

The advice clubs are getting is that this will prove a ‘short and sharp wave’ despite the Omicron variant rampaging through a number of teams

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 16 December 2021 19:51 GMT
(Action Images via Reuters)

The Premier League is insistent on continuing the season without any pause, despite an increasing number of English clubs being willing to back Thomas Frank's call for a circuit break until at least 26 December. It is understood that is not currently being considered centrally.

The game has been thrown into chaos with the Omicron variant rampaging through clubs, with the postponement of Manchester United's home match against Brighton and Hove Albion the fifth match to be postponed in the top division this week, before four more games were postponed this coming weekend due to outbreaks at Watford, Brentford, Norwich and Leicester.

It has left football scrambling to react to the situation, with the authorities decreeing that squads will return to Project Restart protocols.

The Independent has been told that the idea of a circuit break has been discussed informally by Premier League clubs and the English Football League - with Frank merely publicly articulating what is being said behind the scenes - but the game is currently going to continue without this for a few reasons.

There is first of all the fact that some of the advice suggests this will be a "short and sharp wave". Some remain sceptical of that, but even that view is tempered by the prospect that stopping now could inevitably lead to the game halting indefinitely, or merely facing a series of postponements when it actually returns.

A key point is that few are able to strongly argue that a circuit break will make any kind of real difference. That is why the prevailing view is currently the play games as and when safety allows, and "keep the show on the road".

While many see the logic in fully halting this weekend's programme in order to give clubs "breathing space", a reason put forward to keep the fixtures is to trial the implementation of "Plan B". Those measures, which warrant the production of either NHS Vaccine passes or negative tests to attend a game, would be much more difficult to enact for the first time on 26 December.

There is some consternation that full stadiums will soon become a live issue, particularly with five League Cup matches in London this midweek alone, although the authorities’ response is that they are merely being guided by government now. As of Thursday evening, clubs were not being told to prepare themselves to play behind closed doors, even if there is an understandable readiness that the guidance can change quickly.

This has led to a lot of frustration within the top division that the Premier League is not showing "sufficient leadership", and they need to get on the front foot.

The top division's view is that it has been a very fast-moving situation, with circumstances repeatedly transforming in the space of 12 hours. There is also a quiet confidence that the situation will improve once the clubs start to feel the effects of a few days in Project Restart protocols, even allowing for the fact many players are not close to being able to take their third vaccination shot.

The measures will still help slow the spread of the highly transmissable virus, in contrast to what was has basically been normal measures since the start of the season. As such, there is a hope - based on advice and evidence - that the current crisis is situational, and specific to the time of year.

A Premier League statement confirming the postponement of the United-Brighton game confirmed that it is the competition's "intention to continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible".

"The board assesses applications to postpone matches on a case-by-case basis, based on existing rules and Covid-19 postponement guidance issued to all clubs. It will assess a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of the Covid-19 outbreak at the club; and the ability of the players to safely prepare for and play the match. The board must also consider the wider risks to the opposition and other people the club may come into contact with.

"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."

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