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Covid outbreaks at Premier League and EFL clubs spark concern for the new season

Premier League and EFL players have tested positive for Covid after returning to pre-season training, prompting fears of further outbreaks and disruption to the new season, as infection rates soar in the UK.

The cases of coronavirus have sent a ripple of concern through the top flight and football league, as clubs prepare for the start of the new season in August.

Club executives are urging players to take their Covid vaccinations, which public health experts say is the best way to ensure the new season goes ahead with minimal disruption, but some are reluctant, saying they have concerns over the jabs.

Clubs are returning to pre-season training as Covid infection rates surge in the general population sparking concerns that the new season could be affected. Pictured: Aston Villa in training last season.

News of the positive tests, that have affected two players at a top flight club, according to The Telegraph, with further cases at least one EFL club, comes amid dire warnings from government that infections could hit 100,000 per day in the general population next month.

Covid is still wreaking havoc in sport with the England cricket team today forced to isolate its entire One Day International side and backroom staff after an outbreak.

Three players and four management staff contracted the virus after a one-day match against Sri Lanka at Bristol on Sunday. 

A whole new team and management has been appointed to play Pakistan at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff on Thursday.

And in Scotland, Premiership club, Ross County, has suspended football operations after an outbreak among its players.

England players have been in a strict bubble at Euro 2020, but even then two members of the squad, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount had to isolate after coming into contact with Scotland’s Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for Covid

One football club executive told Sportsmail the rising cases of coronavirus is ‘alarming’ with the season only four weeks away. The Premier League resumes on August 13 and the EFL on August 7.

‘The focus has been on fans returning to the stadiums but if the players have Covid then we have a real problem,’ another executive told Sportsmail. ‘We have got three cases. It is a worry.’

On Monday, Boris Johnson said the Government would relax almost all of England’s Covid rules on July 19 – dubbed ‘Freedom Day’.

That will mean clubs are set to welcome back capacity crowds, but they are expected to keep their protocols in place for their players, which served them well last season.

One Premier League club executive said while they were ‘happy enough’ with the current protocols, they ‘may have to be flexible if infections rise during the winter’.

The key to protecting staff and players, and maintaining matches, is vaccination, say scientists, and now all adults over the age of 18 are eligible for a jab. 

‘The risks to sport can be massively minimised by vaccinating players,’ said Professor Keith Neal, an expert in public health and government advisor on Covid.

‘Vaccination would give close to elimination of cases among the squads. There would be major reductions in cases and risks.’

An additional advantage of vaccination is that double jabbed people will not have to isolate if they are ‘pinged’ by the NHS test and trace service, after August 16, under government plans announced today. This will further protect the integrity of squads.

However, as in any population, some people are reluctant to be vaccinated.

It comes as Sajid Javid today announced plans that could see an end to double jabbed Britons having to self-isolate

Sportsmail has spoken to three club executives who are concerned about players and staff who have reservations.

‘They can have the vaccinations if they want them,’ said a EFL club chairman. ‘It makes sense of they may get isolated. But you cannot force someone.’ 

Britain’s third wave of coronavirus infection is being fuelled by the Delta variant, which was first identified in India. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javed today defended Mr Johnson’s plans to lift coronavirus restrictions, but warned infections could increase to 100,000 per day. 

England’s white ball summer has been thrown into disarray after three players and four staff members tested positive for Covid-19

To minimise the spread in football, the Premier League is planning to continue with strict Covid protocols in the season ahead. Twice weekly PCR tests will cease, but they be replaced with lateral flow tests twice a week.  

While less accurate they give a result within 30 minutes, as opposed to 24 hours, so infectious people can be isolated from the rest of the group quickly.

The number of tests available to each club will be increased from 85 to 100 and the league’s compliance officers will continue to visit training grounds to ensure safety standards are met. 

Match day protocols will also remain with access to parts of the stadiums heavily restricted. 

The EFL is still discussing its plans and is yet to advise clubs. However, those spoken to by Sportsmail are maintaining a cautious approach and following last season’s protocols and maintaining testing. 

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