Sources have told ESPN that a growing number of clubs are pressing for the Premier League to close until the new year in a bid to deal with the growing coronavirus crisis.
Premier League chiefs have been informed that with the omicron variant fueled case numbers rising, there will be support for matches to be suspended until the weekend of January 8-9, when the FA Cup third round matches will take place.
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The Premier League announces new measures regarding COVID-19
That could mean postponing four rounds of league matches, starting this weekend and continuing through the weekend of January 1 and 2. Under the proposal, Premier League matches will resume on January 15.
Officially, the Premier League is still considering postponing on a case-by-case basis. The Premier League did not immediately respond to a request for comment when asked about shutdown plans by ESPN.
A number of matches have already been postponed, including Manchester United’s trip to Brentford on Tuesday as well as the weekend’s match with Brighton. Leicester City’s match against Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday has also been postponed. Sources told ESPN that United have nine players available from the first-team squad for Tuesday’s match with Brentford, and only seven are available for the Brighton match.
Watford’s visit to Burnley on Wednesday was canceled just hours before kick-off, and there is concern among some clubs that fans taking long trips over Christmas could have to back out if decisions about matches are left too late.
Ahead of Chelsea’s match against Everton on Thursday, the Blues returned three positive cases as well as self-isolating midfielder Mateo Kovacic after being injured last week. However, as of lunchtime on Thursday, the match at Stamford Bridge was expected to take place as planned.
Chelsea are hopeful that the measures already in place will be enough to contain what has so far been described as a minor outbreak.
However, one issue surrounding a potential shutdown is the disruption of broadcast schedules and the financial penalties that may follow.
Brentford coach Thomas Frank, whose team has had a number of positive COVID-19 cases, has already called for matches to be suspended this weekend.
“We think we should postpone the full round of Premier League matches this weekend,” he said Thursday morning. “Covid cases are going through the roof at all the Premier League clubs; everyone is dealing with it and having problems.
“Postponing this round as well as the Carabao Cup round will give everyone at least a week, four or five days to clean up and do everything on the training ground so that everything is clean and you break the chain.”
Professor Stephen Reacher, advisor to the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), told Radio Times: “I think we really need a short circuit breaker, and I think that’s the only way to make sure that the NHS [National Health Service] Not to be confused – but also to make sure that we can be in a position where at Christmas itself we can enjoy Christmas.”
Information from ESPN’s James Ole and Mark Ogden is included in this report.