Manchester United game off as Premier League is hit by record 42 Covid cases | Soccer

The carefully crafted sense of stability around English football began to crumble on Monday night after a record number of positive Covid-19 tests, with Manchester United’s Tuesday game at Brentford called off and the possibility of more postponements to come.

Forty-two Premier League players and officials tested positive for the virus in the seven days that ended on Sunday, a record for a single week since testing began and more than three times the 12 of the previous week.

Manchester United are among the teams affected, with the club announcing on Monday evening that their away game at Brentford had been called off. “Our Premier League fixture at Brentford on Tuesday 14 December has been postponed and will be rescheduled in due course,” a club statement said.

“Following PCR confirmation of positive LFT Covid-19 tests among the first-team staff and players, the outbreak requires ongoing surveillance. A decision was taken to close first-team operations at Carrington for 24 hours to help minimise risk of further infection, and individuals who tested positive are isolating in line with Premier League protocols.”

“Given cancellation of training and disruption to the squad, and with the health of players and staff the priority, the club requested the match to be rearranged,” the statement continued. “The Premier League board took the decision to postpone based on guidance from medical advisors.” The postponement has also been confirmed by the Premier League.

Manchester United players train at Carrington last week. First-team facilities were closed on Monday.
Manchester United players train at Carrington last week. First-team facilities were closed on Monday. Photograph: Ash Donelon/Man Utd/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Aston Villa and Brighton reported positive tests on Monday, and Tottenham have yet to confirm their fixture against Leicester on Thursday will go ahead after two Spurs matches were called off last week. An outbreak at QPR caused their Championship fixture against Sheffield United on Monday to be postponed.

There is no automatic point at which a Premier League match is suspended, with each case considered by the board, a process queried by a number of Premier League managers including Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta. The Athletic reported on Monday that Arsenal are ramping up protocols after a small number of training-ground staff tested positive for Covid.

The Premier League’s Covid results were compiled from a sample of 3,805, the largest total of the season. An increase in testing is one of a series of emergency measures designed to stop the spread of Covid, reintroduced at clubs last week.

The measures require a return to social distancing at training grounds and limit time in treatment rooms. At a meeting last Friday, clubs were also told they should attempt to limit social contacts among players and staff, effectively paving the way for the reintroduction of the working bubbles that characterised Project Restart.

The league remains hopeful its emergency measures will cut case numbers and allow play to continue. It points to a similar process having the desired effect during the Covid Beta wave of last December and January. There is uncertainty, however, over whether the protocols will work as effectively against the Omicron variant, which is many times more transmissible.

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The uncertainty came as the government confirmed the guidance on new measures for fans attending sporting events from Wednesday. Last week Boris Johnson announced: “We will make the NHS Covid pass mandatory for entrance into … spaces where large crowds gather.”

But the guidance confirms that not every fan will be checked on entry, with organisers able to agree a target achievable without causing crowds to build up outside grounds.

Some Premier League clubs say they already require all supporters to show passes. Others are working on bespoke systems, which will require supporters to register their Covid status with the club before travelling. Areas of the ground that do not register will be subject to more rigorous spot checks.

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