Premier League COVID positives hit fresh high amid fixture fears

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Premier League - Manchester City v West Bromwich Albion

(Reuters) - The Premier League recorded more COVID-19 positives than ever on Tuesday amid fears for fixtures across English soccer after match postponements.

The league said 18 individuals had tested positive for the new coronavirus, the most in a week this season, with bottom side Sheffield United reporting a number of fresh cases in their camp.

United's match at Burnley on Tuesday remained on, with the club saying those who tested positive had entered into a 10-day period of self-isolation in line with Premier League and government guidelines.

The league conducted tests on 1,479 players and staff between Dec. 21-27 but did not name the people who tested positive or their clubs.

Since the season kicked off, 131 individuals in the English top flight have tested positive in 17 rounds of testing. The previous weekly high of 16 positives was between Nov 9-15.

On Monday, Manchester City reported numerous positive cases in their squad -- days after striker Gabriel Jesus and defender Kyle Walker tested positive -- forcing the league to postpone their match at Everton.

City's training ground was closed as a precaution and their game at Chelsea on Sunday remained in doubt, with Chelsea boss Frank Lampard saying the match will not go ahead if it is unsafe for both teams.

The postponement was the second this season after an outbreak at Newcastle United forced the league to call off their match at Aston Villa earlier this month.

Arsenal said their Brazilian defender Gabriel had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be available for their next two matches.

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuettl was absent from Tuesday's home game against West Ham United after he had to self-isolate due to a positive COVID-19 test in his household.

Ten of Tuesday's Football League matches were postponed, including Millwall v Watford in the Championship (second tier), with fears for January's FA Cup third round fixtures.

Wensley Tensel, club doctor at League One Rochdale, told the BBC that the authorities should consider calling a halt as infection levels increased rapidly.

"Should the season still be going on?" he asked.

"In the middle of a pandemic and the spread and all that's going on... we've got these tier four places where people can't travel but footballers can go in and out and take things back to their family, I think it's probably not the wisest thing at the moment."

The Daily Telegraph reported that some Premier League chairmen had discussed informally a possible two-week 'cooling-off' break in the season next month.

The United Kingdom has recorded more than 2.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 71,000 deaths.

Countries across the globe shut their borders to Britain last week due to fears about a highly infectious new variant of the coronavirus.

(Reporting by Rohith Nair and Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Pritha Sarkar)