Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

High Covid-19 infection rates at odds with scientific advice on easing the lockdown and Premier League’s Project Re-Start

Posted on 1 June 2020 by Tusdiq Din

Concerns over the continued high Covid-19 infection rates in the UK have put the government’s easing of the lockdown and the Premier League’s Project Restart at odds with scientific advice.

Sport will see a gradual return after Monday’s lifting of the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Premier League’s Project Restart was given the thumbs up by all 20 clubs, who after what will be more than three months of in-action, were all in favour of the June 17 re-start. All games will be played behind closed doors.

When Leicester City thrashed Aston Villa 4-0 on March 9th, no one could have envisaged that we would have arrived at this juncture. Coincidentally, Villa will feature in one of two fixtures on the first day of the re-start, with the hosting of Sheffield United.

Manchester City vs Arsenal is the other fixture which will mean that every club will have played twenty games. A full fixtures list will then commence the following weekend.

Fears remain however that the lifting of the lockdown has come too soon. Coronavirus infections remain high, with up to 8000 per day in the UK. By comparison, Germany, where there is a bigger population, have a daily infection rate in the low hundreds.

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Aaron Ramsdale of Bournemouth has recovered since testing positive for Covid-19

Premier League players are getting tested regularly with Bournemouth goalkeeper, Aaron Ramsdale the latest player to have announced he tested positive for coronavirus. He has now recovered after self-isolating for 14 days.

Brendan Rogers became the second manager after Mikel Arteta to have contracted coronavirus, and the risk of further player and club staff exposure to the virus has led to some in the game to voice their concerns.

Danny Rose has spoken about people’s lives being at risk, and that football shouldn’t be spoken about until “the numbers have dropped massively.” Rose is right to voice his concerns.

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Danny Rose has expressed his concerns over a hurried Premier League re-start

According to the Office of National Statistics, black people are more than four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white people.

Watford’s Troy Deeney has echoed the on loan Newcastle defender’s fears, while Chelsea manager Frank Lampard understood N’Golo Kante’s initial concerns over returning to training.

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero has spoken of players being “scared,” about returning to action, while Norwich City striker Todd Cantwell announced “We are just people too,” as the debate over what is the best course of action for the current Premier League season to conclude.

The government’s pronouncement that the broadcasting of daily live Premier League football would give the nation a “massive boost,” obviates the fact that the UK has gone through much personal heartache through coronavirus.

No amount of live football will bring back lost loved ones or enable desperate family members to be re-united any sooner. Data from YouGov showed that 73% of 2,098 British adults surveyed would not see the return of football as a boost to their morale, with 19% saying it would.

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We are just people too – Todd Cantwell

Government scientific experts who sit on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have been falling over themselves to pronounce that the lifting of the lockdown may be too soon. Any increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the UK will be harder to contain and will put even further pressure on the NHS they reason.

Professor John Edmunds called lifting of the lockdown a “political decision” to ease measures, while Sir Jeremy Farrar said the NHS test and trace system would need to  be “fully working,” prior to easing measures. As the fine summer weather continues, and people congregate, seemingly ambivalent of the guidelines – to only meet six people, not in your family, only outdoors, enforcing the 2 meter social distancing rule, to help avoid the risk of further infections.

Some clubs have allowed their players to commence contact training. They arrive and depart alone. All kit, boots and drinks bottles have become the responsibility of the players prior to leaving their home, with all training ground equipment constantly disinfected and face masks worn.

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Players are “scared” says Sergio Aguero

We need only to look at the Bundesliga to see what top flight games behind closed doors will look like. Any amount of creativity from apps that allow fans to record their chants to be broadcast at the stadium, to fans’ cardboard cut outs placed in seating or piped atmosphere, will not come close to creating anything like what the players or the fans will recognise.

Better get used to this however, because until there is a vaccine for Covid-19, this situation will remain. Should a spike in infections occur as the scientific advice suggests, it will not only be football that will suffer once again.