It is estimated that around 1.4 million people in the UK contracted Covid-19 during the week ending December 16, the Office for National Statistics said on Thursday.
Against this surge in positive cases, the Premier League said earlier this week that fixtures over the holiday season would go as planned despite a number of clubs experiencing outbreaks of Covid-19 among players and staff. Around 300,000 fans are likely to watch Premier League games on Boxing Day.
The decision to play came following a virtual meeting of the 20 clubs and the league on Monday, called to discuss testing measures and postponement guidelines in light of the increased number of cases.
CNN has been told that clubs are expected to play games as long as they have 13 outfielders and a goalie available for selection.
The picture is further complicated by the vaccination rates in the Premier League.
The league says 77% of its players are currently vaccinated with two doses, which is considered fully vaccinated under current government guidelines, although scientists have stressed the importance of a third booster to successfully fight Omicron. .
England’s vaccination rate for 25-29 year olds is 78.5% – the average age of a Premier League player is 26.9 years old.
The league said 84% of players are currently on a “vaccination trip”, having to wait for the required time between jabs.
“We are disappointed, we are a little angry”
This meant that for the majority of Premier League fans, last weekend went without the routine activity of watching their team in action – only four Premier League stadiums have opened their doors to spectators.
If Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel had succeeded it would have been three.
However, Chelsea’s request to postpone their game against Wolves was denied on Sunday.
Lacking a host of key players and only able to name four substitutes on the pitch, the Blues limped to a 0-0 draw, leaving Tuchel to bemoan the club’s rejection of the request.
“I am medically worried,” Tuchel told reporters before the game. âWe have had four consecutive days of positive tests.
“How is it going to end if we’re on a bus and in a meeting together? We’re disappointed, we’re a little angry.”
CNN has learned that each postponement request is assessed on a case-by-case basis by the Premier League board, which takes into account a number of factors – such as suspensions, injuries and illness – before making a decision. decision.
Chelsea’s rescheduling request did not meet the criteria and was subsequently turned down – although they are not the only club to have seen such a request rejected.
And while other teams suffered postponements, Chelsea, as well as Manchester City, Newcastle United and Arsenal continued to play.
Chelsea have now played 18 games, but Tottenham Hotspur only managed to complete 15 games, giving the league table something rambling.
A number of Chelsea fans CNN has spoken to in recent days have equaled their manager in expressing bemusement over how the match schedule was being handled.
After completing the first leg of his 286 mile round trip from Stamford Bridge to Molineux Stadium, Teruhito Komatsu arrived at Wolverhampton on match morning unsure if the match would even take place.
Had Chelsea’s postponement request been granted, Komatsu would have joined thousands of fans forced to bear the subsequent economic and logistical costs of wasted travel, not to mention failing to watch his squad.
The day before, Aston Villa and Burnley fans suffered the worst-case scenario as Saturday’s game at Villa Park was postponed just hours before kick-off following further positive tests in the squad home.
Had Burnley fans gone door-to-door, the game’s cancellation would have wasted a 235 mile round trip.
CNN has learned that decisions to postpone matches are made as quickly as possible once requests are submitted, but the precocity with which such announcements can be made is limited by the timelines of test results – situations changing as late as the morning of matches. .
New, stricter guidelines on daily club testing should speed up follow-up and subsequent decision-making on postponements, as the league aims to perform PCR testing in the morning before match days in order to have results in the evening. .
On Monday, the Welsh government announced that due to an increase in the number of cases of the Omicron variant, all sporting events across the country will be played behind closed doors from December 26. In Scotland, all outdoor events in the country will be limited to 500 spectators from 26 December for “up to three weeks”, Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday.
In contrast, the Premier League reaffirmed Covid-19 matchday metrics that are familiar to many fans around since the start of the season – showing a valid NHS Covid pass or proof of a negative test at the during the last 48 hours after entry, and wearing face coverings in unseated areas around the stadium.
An additional condition, effective December 15, requires fans over the age of 18 to complete a self-declaration of Covid status through their club’s website before the match, but the general guidelines are effectively in line with how operations were carried out all season.
While concerns about the clarity of the lineup can be traced to a recent spike in the number of cases, fans told CNN that the contradictions surrounding game day protocols predate the Omicron variant.
“Entry into the stadiums has been very irregular,” said Manchester United fan Rohan Malhotra.
“Some stages check your Covid vaccination status without letting us know before it’s ready, while in some stages we were told to have our vaccine passports handy to be checked and then not asked to show them. “
Several supporters spoke of the ârelaxedâ application of match-day controls.
“Nothing has really changed at the start,” Chelsea fan Tom Masters said of the stadiums returning to full capacity this season.
“It was so nice to be back and the only difference was the Covid pass checks – not particularly strict.”
The upside from a fan perspective is that for some, this season has allayed fears that the pandemic might void the fans’ experience on match day, with Komatsu claiming that – except for the Covid pass – he doesn’t see no “major differences” between the games and those before the confinement of March 2020.
âWe can drink in the lobby normally and we can sing normally during games because masks are not needed for eating, drinking and sitting,â Komatsu said.
âThe situation outside the football fields is also the same. Many fans go to crowded pubs and sing loudly like we did before the lockdown.â
For others, although the pandemic has had a more noticeable impact on their match routine, with Chelsea Fan Group chairman Peter Trenter – usually at the heart of discussions on the terrace on the upper level of Stamford Bridge’s Shed End – revealing that he socializes much less because he maintains a close adherence to covid measures.
Yet as it stands – given the league’s alignment with national government and public health guidelines – fans will have the option to follow their squads throughout the Christmas season, potentially contradicting the opinion of an NHS official.
NHS Director of Primary Care Dr Nikki Kanani told reporters last week that fans should prioritize their reminder “rather than going to watch a game”.
For Komatsu – having received his recall at the Stamford Bridge pop-up vaccination center last week – Kanani’s comments were unfair.
“I think we should be strengthened (…) to protect our clubs, our communities, our families and our friends,” Komatsu said. “However, I’m not sure why the NHS director needed to mention football.
âWe can go to a vaccination center on non-game days. Perhaps the manager could have said that people who do not reserve their booster shots should prioritize their booster over something else.
“There must be a lot of non-football fans who don’t prioritize their booster and choose to do something else.”
As Premier League managers anxiously await their players’ fitness results and try to organize Covid-exhausted squads, they can take comfort in knowing that fans appear ready to face a whole Christmas time. also uncertain after their teams.