The Premier League’s Covid Crisis Leaves Fans Worried

It’s a widely held belief that football is nothing without fans, but as the Premier League enters the traditionally busy Christmas and New Year period, fans of the 20 top-flight clubs are faced with the decision of whether to continue cheering on their teams in crowded stadiums in the face of the Omicron variant’s rapid spread.

According to the Office for National Statistics, almost 1.4 million persons in the United Kingdom contracted Covid-19 in the week ending December 16.

Despite a number of clubs reporting Covid-19 breakouts among players and staff, the Premier League said earlier this week that matches during the holiday period will go ahead as planned. On Boxing Day, roughly 300,000 people are expected to watch Premier League matches.

Following a virtual conference of all 20 teams and the league on Monday to review testing protocols and postponement recommendations in light of soaring case numbers, the decision to go on was taken.

Clubs will be required to play games if they have 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper ready for selection, according to reporters.

According to Appendix 17 of the Premier League rulebook, “permission will not be given to postpone a League Match when the application Club has 14 or more Players listed on its Squad List available,” such rules have been in force since the start of the 2021-22 season.

Each side was slated to play three times between December 26 and January 3 in what is normally the busiest stretch of the domestic league calendar, but the Premier League was forced to postpone two Boxing Day matches on Thursday owing to Covid-19 difficulties at Watford and Leeds United.

Watford was set to play Wolverhampton Wanderers on the road, while Leeds was set to visit Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday, December 26.

According to the league, 77 percent of its players have had two doses of the vaccine, which is deemed completely immunized under current government guidelines, while experts have stressed the significance of receiving a third booster vaccination in order to properly tackle Omicron.

In England, 78.5 percent of 25-29-year-olds are vaccinated; the average age of a Premier League player is 26.9 years.

According to the league, 84 percent of players are now on a “vaccination journey,” which requires them to wait the appropriate amount of time between shots.

Due to an increase in instances of the Omicron type, the Welsh government stated on Monday that all athletic events in the nation will be held behind closed doors beginning December 26. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated on Tuesday that all outdoor events in the nation will be limited to 500 spectators starting December 26 for “up to three weeks.”

The Premier League, on the other hand, has reaffirmed matchday Covid-19 measures that many fans have been familiar with since the start of the season: showing a valid NHS Covid pass or proof of a negative test in the previous 48 hours upon entry, and wearing face coverings in unseated areas around the stadium.

Fans above the age of 18 must submit a Covid status self-declaration on their club’s website in advance of the game, as of December 15, although the overall guideline is basically in line with how operations have been managed all season.

While the lack of clarity about scheduling can be attributed to a recent uptick of cases, fans told reporters that inconsistencies in matchday protocols predate the Omicron type.

“Entry into stadiums has been highly erratic,” said Rohan Malhotra, a Manchester United supporter.

“Some stadiums check your Covid vaccination status without warning us beforehand that we should have this ready, whilst at others, we’ve been instructed to bring our vaccine passports with us to be checked and then we’re not required to display them.”

Several supporters expressed their dissatisfaction with the “lax” execution of checks on matchday.

“At first, nothing really changed,” Chelsea supporter Tom Masters said of this season’s return to full-capacity stadiums.

“It was great to be back, and the only difference was the Covid pass checks, which were not very tight.”

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