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22nd March 2020

Environment Coronavirus: Government tells Premier League to ‘step up’ planning

Environment Coronavirus: Government tells Premier League to ‘step up’ planning

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environment Fans at Leicester v Birmingham

Fans don protective masks at Wednesday’s Leicester versus Birmingham FA Cup match

The Government has asked the Premier League to “step up its contingency planning” for coronavirus, a letter sent to club bosses states.

Guidance sent to clubs explained that although the current position remains one of “business as usual”, if the situation worsens they will consider “all the available options for completing the season”.

The email makes clear that protecting players and managers will have a big impact on whether the remaining fixtures are fulfilled.

“The first team environment is especially crucial: an outbreak affecting the first team of just one club could make completing the season very difficult to achieve,” clubs were told.

The email was sent by the Premier League on Tuesday and has been seen by BBC Sport.

On Wednesday the UK saw its biggest day-on-day increase in coronavirus cases, bringing the total number to 87.

In Italy, the worst-hit European country with 3,090 cases and 107 deaths, all sport will either be postponed or take place behind closed doors until 3 April.

Playing fixtures behind closed doors is the main contingency plan being considered by the Premier League, should the spread of coronavirus necessitate it, although at present matches will go ahead as planned.

“After discussion with the Government’s crisis planners, the main focus for our contingency planning is consideration of a ‘behind closed doors’ policy,” the email says.

The guidance also notes that the Government has laid out three different categories of contingency plans and could intervene if the situation changes.

While the Premier League is currently in Category A, described as “as you are”, it says that Category B would be “behind closed doors” and then Category C is “cancellation, curtailment or postponement”.

If the guidance were to change, clubs would meet for a shareholders’ meeting.

The Premier League said it is in regular contact with Government officials responsible for policy for crowded places, and will be working closely with club doctors as they look to share “best practice”.

The main advice to clubs is that increased care needs to be taken with hygiene and steps must be taken to limit access to stadiums and training grounds.

Several clubs have already taken their own action, including stopping players signing autographs, having ‘selfies’ with fans and shaking hands with club staff.

The email sheds light on the Government’s view of how sporting events may impact on the transmission of coronavirus, and indicates that they will not follow other countries in cancelling sporting events unless there is evidence to support such a move.

“Sporting events in themselves are not seen by the medical authorities as a major contributory factor in the spread of the virus,” it says.

“They tell us that they want to be guided by the scientific evidence and not be pushed into measures intended for the headlines rather than meaningful impact.

“In their view the evidence so far suggests that the main locations where transmission within the general population is most likely are the home, schools and the workplace, with open air sports events less likely to be a problem than, for example, shopping centres, pubs and restaurants.”

However, the Government’s view is that travel around sporting events and the congregation of fans at pubs could “pose potentially significant risks”.

It is estimated in the email that an average of 350,000 fans attend Premier League matches over a weekend.

However, if fixtures were held behind closed doors or cancelled, it is noted that those fans “will find something else to do with their time which will also carry transmission risks – and we are therefore working with civil servants to develop more detailed planning assumptions”.

A planning and coordination team within the Premier League has been set up to lead on the coronavirus response efforts.

There are nine Premier League fixtures this weekend.

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