London (AFP) – Aston Villa became the fourth Premier League club to suffer a coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, adding to growing concerns over whether English football’s top-flight can complete the season on schedule.
Villa were forced to cancel training and close their training ground after two rounds of testing returned multiple positive cases of Covid-19 among players and staff.
Britain is battling a highly infectious strain of the virus which has forced a new nationwide lockdown after cases soared in recent days.
“A large number of first-team players and staff returned positive tests after being routinely tested on Monday and immediately went into isolation,” Villa said in a statement.
“A second round of testing was carried out immediately and produced more positive results today.”
The Birmingham-based club’s FA Cup third-round tie against Liverpool on Friday is now at risk of being postponed.
“First-team training ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup match with Liverpool was cancelled,” Villa’s statement added.
“Discussions are ongoing between medical representatives of the club, the Football Association and the Premier League.”
Premier League Southampton’s FA Cup home match against Shrewsbury has already been postponed because there have been a number of positive cases at the League One club.
Wayne Rooney’s Derby will fulfil their fixture at minnows Chorley with a youth team after nine positive tests among first-team players and staff.
– Fixture pile-up –
On Tuesday, a record high of 40 positive tests were detected among Premier League players and staff in the week between December 28 and January 3.
Three Premier League matches were postponed last week due to outbreaks at Manchester City and Fulham.
Due to the late end to last season, the league is less than halfway through the 2020/21 campaign.
The packed fixture schedule, with domestic leagues, cup and European competitions having to be finished before the delayed Euro 2020 starting on June 11, leaves little room for manoeuvre.
Despite the rising case numbers and calls from some within the game for a circuit breaker to buy time and bring infection rates down, the Premier League has so far been adamant that the season will proceed.
“With low numbers of positive tests across the overwhelming majority of clubs, the league continues to have confidence in its Covid-19 protocols, fully backed by the government, to enable fixtures to be played as scheduled,” the league said on Tuesday.
However, a number of embarrassing incidents have come to light in which prominent players have flouted coronavirus restrictions, doing little to aid English football’s case to keep going while movements in the rest of the country are highly restricted.
Pictures of Tottenham trio Erik Lamela, Sergio Reguilon and Giovani Lo Celso and West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini attending a Christmas party with family and friends emerged over the weekend, prompting Spurs to promise internal disciplinary proceedings.
Manchester City have also launched an investigation after left-back Benjamin Mendy admitted to breaching Covid protocols by hosting a New Year’s Eve party.
Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic and Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic also broke the rules to attend a New Year’s Eve party.
Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow has been among those calling for tougher sanctions for players who break the regulations and put the season at risk.
Villa captain Jack Grealish was fined two weeks’ wages by the club for a breach of the rules last year.
“There are moments when young people will stray from the rules and, whether you’re a parent or the chief executive of a football club, that’s a time when you have to be very strict and remind people of their responsibilities,” Purslow said earlier this week.
Despite the new national lockdown that came into force in England on Wednesday, the British government has said elite sport can continue despite the tighter restrictions.
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