The Premier League’s Project Restart was given another major boost on Saturday night when the second round of testing, this time of 996 players and staff, returned just two positive tests for coronavirus.
It followed the first round of testing – twice weekly at the 20 clubs – which reported six cases among the 20 clubs, and puts the league on firmer ground as it moves towards the “step two” part of government protocols that will permit players to return to contact football in training.
The two latest positives tests were at two clubs and the results will reassure the Premier League that the measures in place at training grounds this week, which began “step one” socially distanced training on Tuesday, are working.
The first round of tests last weekend yielded six positive tests across three clubs from an initial sample of 748 players and staff. The number of tests available to each club in this latest round of testing which took place on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday was increased from 40 to 50. The six who tested positive the previous week are all now in isolation and were not included in the latest round of results.
The 20 clubs will discuss the “step two” protocols at a Wednesday conference call by which time the government is expected to have delivered its new guidelines for that stage of elite sport’s return. In the meantime, the Premier League has sought to reassure black and ethnic minority (BAME)] footballers that they would be safe to play in the Covid-19 era in a call involving high-profile former players, coaches and executives as well as Troy Deeney, the Watford captain.
The BAME players’ advisory group (BPAG) were addressed by the Government public health expert Jonathan Van-Tam on Friday with Ian Wright, Joleon Lescott and former Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo among those told of the latest research into the effects of coronavirus.
It is understood that Van-Tam was able to offer a level of reassurance to Deeney and others that they would be safe to return under the Government’s “step one” protocols that have been rolled out at Premier League training grounds this week.
The former West Bromwich Albion manager and player Darren Moore is also part of BPAG, so too former Newcastle United striker Shola Ameobi, and Arsenal coach Paul Nevin. Wes Morgan, the Premier League winning Leicester City captain, is also part of the group but was not on this call.
Van-Tam, the Government’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, addressed the belief that BAME people are more vulnerable to the virus. Based on Office for National Statistics figures for coronavirus fatalities in the five weeks up until May 1, BAME groups are twice as likely to contract the disease as part of unspecified external factors. There was no evidence to say they were at greater risk of dying having contracted it.
The group was told that one possible explanation for the figures may be socio-economic. They were also told that there is some research into whether late reporting of illness, and presenting of symptoms at hospital in some BAME communities may have had an effect on outcomes.
Deeney declined to return to training last week and there is a recognition that issues he raised around BAME players have to be addressed if there is to be full confidence before the league moves to “step two” of its return to training.
The Government is expected to deliver its new set of protocols for that stage of elite sport imminently and the Premier League will have to have the confidence of its players if they are to return to contact sport. The 24 clubs of the Championship embark on their own “step one” training from Monday with different tiers of Covid-19 testing available to the