Premier League clubs fear mass postponements, and possibly the need to shut down again due to Omicron’s rapid spread and slow progress in immunizing players.
The League announced 42 positive tests for Covid on Monday night — the most ever recorded in a single week — with at least five clubs having confirmed cases, including Manchester United whose fixture at Brentford on Tuesday is in doubt as a result.
The clubs’ worries have been exacerbated by the slow pace of their vaccination programmes, which has left the majority of players facing a wait to receive the booster jab required to provide protection against Omicron, after studies showed that two jabs offer little immunity.
Premier League clubs worry that Covid-19 case increases could lead to mass postponements
The slow rate of club vaccination programs has exacerbated fears
Sportsmail has learned that Wolves are the only top-flight club who expect to meet Boris Johnson’s target of boosting all over-18s by the end of the month — although Leeds and Brentford are also understood to be well advanced in their planning to give the crucial third jab to their players and staff.
However, many other players are facing anxious waiting as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation continue to insist on a three month gap between their second and third vaccination doses.
The Premier League’s vaccine data is a closely guarded secret, but the last information they published on October 19 stated that 68 per cent of players were fully vaccinated. Due to the fact that a large number of booster doses weren’t given until October, almost a third of the players won’t be able to get their booster until January.
Manchester United has returned positive results and the game against Brentford could be at risk
Ralf Rangnick and his squad were forced to cancel their Monday training due to the spread of the virus.
Due to an outbreak within their squad, Tottenham has already seen two games delayed.
The rapid spread of Omicron, which Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Monday accounted for 20 per cent of the estimated 200,000 Covid infections in the country, has exposed the dangers caused by many players’ vaccine hesitancy, which clubs and Premier League officials have been battling against all season.
This new, more transmittable variant already causes significant disruption. Tottenham’s matches against Rennes and Brighton were called off last week, along with Monday’s Championship game between Sheffield United and Queens Park Rangers. Leicester and Norwich were also open to postponing games against Newcastle United or Manchester United, but decided not to proceed.
The Premier League insist that with rigorous testing measures in place and emergency protocols reintroduced they should be able to continue, but sources at several clubs are privately questioning whether they can carry on in the event of mass postponements without compromising the competition’s integrity — particularly ahead of the congested festive period.
The second wave of Premier League games was held last Christmas, but six Premier League games were delayed. Officials from the league will try to avoid a season suspension. A brief suspension would cause broadcasters to demand rebates or a large fixture backlog.
Boris Johnson is only aiming to boost all over-18s by March 31, but it’s unlikely that Boris Johnson will succeed.
Extending the campaign into the summer — as happened at the start of the pandemic — would be even more problematic this time around, as the 2022-23 season has already been compressed and compromised by the Qatar World Cup taking place in November and December.
As well as announcing the 42 Covid positives — a significant increase on 12 the previous week and seven the week before — the Premier League confirmed the reintroduction of emergency protocols such as wearing face coverings indoors, observing social distancing and limiting treatment time. Following the increase in Covid check frequency to three per week, all clubs have been asked to carry out daily Covid screenings on their players.
The twice-weekly orders were in force, but some clubs had already performed additional tests to check for Covid symptoms.