Premier League positive COVID tests increase as Sheffield United, Manchester City, Fulham face outbreaks

Premier League fixtures are coming under growing pressure from COVID-19 as the pandemic’s grip on the United Kingdom grows ever greater.

As the English game battles to complete its traditionally hectic festive fixtures, clubs across the sport are battling with an upswing of coronavirus cases representative of the population at large. The United Kingdom reported 53,135 new cases on Tuesday, a new record for the country.

In such circumstances the fixture list across the country is starting to feel the strain ahead of the FA Cup fixtures in the second weekend of January, where top tier opponents will face sides from Leagues One and Two where access to coronavirus testing is less frequent.

Manchester City’s Premier League game against Everton, scheduled for December 28, was postponed after five first team players tested positive, the second occasion in which a top flight English game has not taken place.

The City squad were set for further tests this week as they attempt to fulfill Sunday’s game against Chelsea.

City are not the only squad feeling the strain of coronavirus. Sheffield United’s game against Burnley went ahead despite “a number of positive coronavirus tests” at the Yorkshire club. 

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Fulham’s game against Tottenham on Wednesday night could also be in doubt after positive tests in the home team, a source told CBS Sports. This was first reported by The Athletic.

Meanwhile Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl was isolating at home during his side’s game against West Ham after a member of his household tested positive.

The Premier League reported an increase in positives to 18 from 1,479 staff and players tested for the period December 21-27, more than double the number of cases in the previous round. That is the highest number of individual positives in a week although the 1.22 percent of positive results in 0.11 percentage points lower than the testing window of November 9-15.

The league has now moved to twice weekly tests. All those clubs participating in the FA Cup third round will have their squads and staff tested ahead of the game. Coronavirus tests are not mandatory at League One and League Two level.

League Two side Morecambe are due to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on December 10 but the Shrimps have postponed their games on December 29 and January 2 due to an outbreak within their squad.

On the previous occasion where Premier League clubs played a sizeable number of lower league opposition – the early rounds of the EFL Cup – there was no obligation for testing, leading to Hull City declining an offer from West Ham to pay for their COVID-19 tests. Leyton Orient accepted tests paid for by Tottenham and ultimately had to forfeit the third round tie after an outbreak within their squad.

The FA will pay for tests to ensure no repeat of those circumstances but it remains to be seen whether those tests force the postponement of any third round ties.

Dr Wesley Tensel, team doctor of League One club Rochdale and a general practitioner, questioned the prudence of continuing to play football as the United Kingdom battles to contain the spread of a more contagious variant of coronavirus.

He told the BBC: “Personally I think in the middle of a pandemic and the spread and all that is going on with the numbers rising, and the fact that we have got these Tier 4 places where people can’t travel… but footballers are able to go in and out and take things back to their family. It is probably not the wisest thing at the moment.”

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