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Premier League announces record number of new coronavirus cases

The Premier League has announced 103 new coronavirus cases among club players and staff, the highest weekly number recorded since testing figures began being circulated in May last year.

The league has also confirmed it has reverted to emergency measures following a raft of top-flight postponements.

Increased testing to daily lateral flow and twice-weekly PCR tests have been introduced. Lateral flow testing was previously carried out twice a week.

Premier League facing calls to postpone all of this weekend’s fixtures
A scarf seller outside Old Trafford after a recent Manchester United game was postponed because of coronavirus (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“The League can today confirm that between Monday 20 December and Sunday 26 December, 15,186 Covid-19 tests were administered on players and club staff. Of these, there were 103 new positive cases,” read a statement.

“The Premier League’s Covid-19 emergency measures include protocols such as wearing face coverings while indoors, observing social distancing, limiting treatment time, as well as the increased testing.

“The League is continuing to work with clubs to keep people safe by helping mitigate the risks of Covid-19 within their squads.

“We are also liaising closely with the Government, local authorities and supporter groups, while being responsive to any future changes to national or local guidance.”

The English Football League has seen its midweek programme heavily hit, with 14 fixtures now off, including Wednesday’s Championship match between Reading and Fulham.

Fulham, knocked off top spot in the Championship on Monday as Bournemouth won 1-0 at QPR, said the Royals were unable to fulfil the fixture due to a combination of Covid-19 and injuries.

The increasing problems led League One AFC Wimbledon to call for clubs to be “held to account” over postponing fixtures for coronavirus-related reasons.

The Dons’ demand came after their games against Charlton and Portsmouth were postponed because of opposition Covid-19 cases.

Matches at Crawley, Burton, Harrogate, Salford and Scunthorpe were also called off on Monday.

In a strongly worded letter to the EFL, AFC Wimbledon chief executive Joe Palmer wrote: “We are writing to openly express our disappointment over the recent spate of matches that member clubs have been unable to fulfil.

“We also want to take this opportunity to call on the EFL to undertake its due processes and implement the strongest-possible measures to ensure that – where a club is able to fulfil a fixture – it does so.

“Further, where it is found that a club was unable to fulfil a fixture, they must be held to account for all decisions which led to that position.”

Palmer, who urged the EFL to reintroduce the rule allowing clubs to make five substitutions per match, said the Dons had suffered “only” 11 cases of Covid-19 since the Omicron variant had become the prevalent strain of the virus in London.

“This is not by luck,” the statement added. “This is down to hard work and spending resources our club ultimately does not have at its disposal. This is the players sacrificing their ability to spend time with their loved ones.

“Christmas gatherings have been cancelled and everyone at the club has played their part; the players have to be truly commended for their commitment.

“At significant cost, we have tested players twice weekly since the beginning of the season. In the weeks before the Red Zone protocols were brought into effect, we upped this to three tests per week.

“We then moved to Red Zone protocols with daily testing in the week before the EFL’s announcement of such measures.

“The club has isolated individuals and chosen not to select players for match-day squads.

“We have taken some very difficult decisions to manage our squad, which most likely led to a loss of on-field competitiveness.

“Training has been impacted by the immediate removal or our under-23 and loan players from our training group (due to the likelihood of exposure to Covid-19 at their non-league loan clubs). If we can make all this work – on such limited resources – then so should the rest.”

The Dons accept they are not the only club undertaking these measures, even acknowledging others may have gone further.

But the club added: “It just doesn’t sit right that, having gone above and beyond our means to ensure matches can be fulfilled, we will now be at a disadvantage – trying to navigate a very congested second half of the season with a small squad.

“Meanwhile, clubs with larger squads will have the upper hand, having been provided the opportunity to take a more relaxed approach knowing there will be no penalties for conduct that sits outside of the protocols.”

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