The surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the spread of the Omicron variant is still hitting the Premier League hard with a growing number of clubs experiencing outbreaks that have forced the postponement of several matches.
A total of 15 Premier League games have already been called off and other clubs have seen more positive tests come back for staff and squad members — so what are the new Premier League rules regarding COVID-19 and will there be more postponements?
These are the latest updates on the developing situation around the league.
Premier League games cancelled due to COVID-19
Tottenham’s fixture against Brighton, originally due to be played on Dec. 12, was the first Premier League game of the season to have been postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak experienced by Spurs.
A rash of other matches were subsequently postponed, including three just hours before they were due to kick off. After six matches on the Matchday 18 slate were pushed, Boxing Day has already been impacted. No makeup dates have been announced for any of the matches just yet.
Which Premier League clubs have positive COVID cases?
Everton’s second straight Premier League match on Boxing Day was postponed and COVID was a contributing factor for it. According to the Premier League’s official announcement, new injuries to players coupled with existing COVID cases did not leave the club with a sufficient number of available players.
Watford, which already had a Dec. 18 match postponed, didn’t have enough players to play on Boxing Day, but the Premier League says that players will be coming out of isolation and the club should be ready for the Dec. 28 contest against West Ham.
After being forced to play with an undermanned side against Arsenal in a 4-1 loss on Dec. 18 (10 players missing), Leeds United was granted a postponement of its Dec. 26 match at Liverpool and its Dec. 28 home fixture against Aston Villa. A combination of injuries and COVID-19 positives left the team without a sufficient number of players (13 outfield players and one goalkeeper).
Aston Villa also succumbed to a COVID outbreak. After cancelling training on Dec. 12 but still playing a scheduled match on Dec. 14 (2-0 win at Norwich City), the outbreak spread further and forced a postponement of the Dec. 18 home game against Burnley which was called off just two hours before kickoff. The Villans returned to play on Boxing Day.
Similar to Villa, Leicester City traveled to Italy without several players on Dec. 9 for a Europa League group game against Napoli. The Foxes lost the match 3-2 to drop into the Conference League knockout playoffs. Then the Foxes’ Premier League matches on Dec. 16 and Dec. 19 were eventually postponed, but they returned to action in the Carabao Cup on Dec. 22.
Brighton manager Graham Potter revealed positive cases on his team, but it didn’t lead to any postponements. That wasn’t the case with Norwich City which had its Dec. 18 match scratched. Wolves were the latest team to experience an outbreak, forcing the Premier League to grant a request to push its Dec. 28 match against Arsenal on December 28 postponed.
According to a Reuters report on Dec. 13, there were a single-week record 42 new cases among Premier League players and staff from Dec. 6-12. The following week saw more than double that amount (90 from Dec. 13-19). There were only 100 total positive tests between Aug. 2 and Dec. 5.
With teams forced to navigate the challenges caused by the outbreaks, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp recently made the case for greater transparency on numbers and players affected:
Brentford manager Thomas Frank had asked the Premier League to suspend all matches for the weekend of Dec. 18-19 to give clubs an opportunity to get a handle on the situation. More than half of the 10-match slate was later postponed.
Premier League rules on postponing matches due to COVID
The Premier League handbook itself states that the league’s board can “only permit the rearrangement or postponement of a league match in exceptional circumstances”.
Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis for each club, and there are no set rules that will determine whether or not a fixture will get cancelled. According to the league, sporting and medical factors are taken into account in each of these decisions.
Been alerted to Premier League handbook, which states if both clubs have 14 players (mainly outfielders) available then the fixture should be played. Safety and welfare is, of course, factored into decision-making regarding Covid cases as well.
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) December 15, 2021
Following the cancellation of Man United vs. Brentford match on Dec. 14, the Premier League stated that it would introduce new “emergency measures” to combat the further spread of COVID-19, with the league’s players and staff having to take a lateral flow test every day in order to access training grounds.
In addition to the daily tests to get into training grounds, players and staff are taking a PCR test at least twice a week.
Additional measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing continue to be enforced. The Premier League released the following statement to introduce the new steps:
“The Board assesses applications to postpone matches on a case-by-case basis, based on existing rules and COVID-19 postponement guidance issued to all clubs,” the statement read. “It will assess a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak at the club; and the ability of the players to safely prepare for and play the match. The Board must also consider the wider risks to the opposition and other people the club representatives may come into contact with.”
COVID-19 situation in the UK
The spike in positive cases comes at a time when the United Kingdom has been facing yet another COVID-19 outbreak with the new Omicron variant.
In October the Premier League indicated that 69 per cent of players had been fully vaccinated, with 81 per cent having received their first dose.
On Dec. 21 the EPL updated its numbers: 92 per cent of players and club staff had received one, two or three COVID-19 vaccination doses, with 84 per cent of players on the vaccination journey.
But concerns remain with those who choose to stay unvaccinated, while booster jabs continue to be implemented in the country for those eligible.
For fans attending matches in England, they will have to produce proof of double vaccination or a negative test to go to events with crowds that exceed 10,000 people.