Dundee Utd confident of Covid containment as shutdown call gets little support

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Dundee United are confident they have contained a Covid-19 outbreak as David Martindale’s calls for a two-week Scottish football shutdown got little support.

The Livingston manager claimed the cinch Premiership should bring forward its winter break after United reported positive cases and St Johnstone lost Chris Kane to new isolation rules for household cases.

But United head coach Tam Courts later revealed the only disruption his side had faced this week, other than losing some players, was delaying Thursday’s training session until the afternoon to receive results of PCR tests.

Courts expects to take a reasonably strong squad to face Rangers at Ibrox on Saturday, although he was already missing players through injury.

“Last week we had a positive case with a staff member and this week we have had a couple of positive cases within the player group,” Courts said.

“But we have still been able to have a really good planning week and managed to minimise disruption, and I was at the Rangers game on Wednesday night.

“I still feel we have a healthy squad to choose from and we are excited about the game. It’s almost been business as usual.

“I am aware these things can be a moving feast between now and Saturday but at this moment in time everything is contained.

“The process is completed and that was finalised this (Thursday) morning.”

With case numbers rising in Scotland and the faster-spreading Omicron strain poised to become the dominant variant, more disruption is expected.

Martindale, seeing the numbers of postponed games in England rising, said: “If you were asking me what would I do right now – I would shut the league down for two weeks. I would have a circuit-break and go again.

“I don’t believe it’s fair on teams even when they meet the criteria of 13 players, so many over-18, two goalkeepers. I don’t believe it’s fair for the competition and the product.”

Martindale revealed several of his club’s staff members were in self-isolation and added: “Is that going to drip-feed into the football department very soon? I would imagine so.

“My daughter is at school so how many households is Georgia mixing with on a daily basis? Is Covid potentially going to come into my house, into Livingston Football Club? I think it is. Is there anything we can do to stop it? I genuinely don’t think there is.

“So we need to be clever on how we approach this. I think it’s going to have a massive impact on Scottish football over the next couple of weeks.”

The Premiership winter break starts after the Edinburgh derby on January 3.

Martindale said: “We are booked to go away somewhere but is that really why you wouldn’t do it? It isn’t, is it?

“Dundee United are just the start. This is going to affect us all and I think it’s going to get worse as the days and weeks go on.

“Could we go on a circuit-break and start two weeks earlier in the winter window? It’s easy for me sitting here saying that, I understand the logistics with the SPFL and SFA, but for me that is an option.

“I don’t think it’s fair that, let’s say, a week down the line we take this decision and three or four clubs have had disappointing results due to the Omicron variant.”

However, the Scottish Professional Football League was soon scheduling more festive fixtures.

Airdrie’s League 1 game against Queen’s Park, which was recently postponed because of a Covid outbreak among the Diamonds squad, was rearranged for December 29.

Scottish top-flight clubs later held talks in a bid to find ways of dealing with the increased threat.

A spokesperson for the Scottish football authorities’ Joint Response Group said: “Following a videoconference  discussion with Premiership clubs, the JRG will  begin consultation on the potential strengthening of protocols between now and the winter break to reinforce Scottish football’s measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 and the increased transmission of new variants.”

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson was not in agreement with Martindale.

“We’ve got the break coming up in January so that hopefully will give us a chance to see it out a little bit,” he added.

“One of the things you’ve got to remember with football is people’s lives revolve around it and they need it over this festive period, hence the reason there are a lot of games.

“We have an obligation to make sure we don’t put ourselves in areas we’re going to cause ourselves problems but also to make sure we put games on.”

Ross County manager Malky Mackay feels clubs need to “keep with the best practices” while continuing to play.

“There is a lot of things that clubs could help themselves and I am not talking about spending fortunes, I am talking about best practice and being sensible about what approach you take in terms of what is a bubble and what a red zone looks like,” he added.

Courts added: “At this stage, based on what I have available to me, the excitement of the games coming up, I still very much want us to be playing football, with fans in stadiums as well.”

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