Premier League nears Covid-19 breaking point with vaccine drive the only route to keep games on

It is impossible to escape the bleakness of the situation and entering a period where thousands more lives will be lost, record case numbers will continue to be set and the prospect of further restrictions hovers darkly above, millions will turn to football as a source of respite from the horror.

There is a slight problem with that, however: the industry is facing increasing case numbers of its own and there is almost certain to be a spike in postponements over the festive season.

Tonight’s Premier League game between Burnley and Watford was called off with supporters already honing in on Turf Moor owing to an outbreak in the Hornets’ squad and the lateness of it all was not exactly ideal, providing a sense that the clubs are chasing their tail as the speed of the spread takes everyone by surprise.

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West Ham’s game against Norwich City at London Stadium on Saturday appears in some doubt, while Tottenham Hotspur may take a while to get back to speed after their squad was hit hard by an outbreak at the beginning of the month and Brentford’s game against Manchester United, scheduled for Tuesday night but postponed 20 hours before kick-off, will need to be rescheduled.

On Monday the Premier League announced 42 new positive cases, the highest total since testing began 18 months ago, and that figure is predicted to climb further by next week. With a record 78,610 cases reported across the country today, including an horrific spike in London, it seems inevitable.

Noises from the Premier League are that they are satisfied the new rules, demanding supporters provide proof of vaccination or a negative test as condition of entry, go far enough but it is jarring to see games go behind closed doors in Germany and elsewhere across Europe in recent weeks.

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No one wants that to occur here and the best way to ensure games can continue in front of packed stadiums is for as much of the country to get protected. The evidence from researchers and every hospital in the country is unequivocal. Anyone who disputes otherwise is a liar or pitifully gullible and easily misled.

Football as an industry has been a beacon of light throughout the pandemic – from efforts in the local community that have garnered little publicity to opening stadiums up as vaccine centres – but when the vaccine race is the only real way out of this nightmare there is now an added responsibility for clubs, and as the de facto spokesmen, managers to do even more by encouraging vaccine uptake.

Hearing David Moyes, for instance, talk of “diversity” when it comes to members of West Ham’s squad remaining sceptical is unhelpful and weak leadership. A lesson could be taken from Jurgen Klopp’s approach to this where, with more than a sliver of justification, he has compared the refusal to get jabbed as being similar to drink driving. Except right now the former’s death rate is much higher.

“We talk so much about diversity,” Moyes said before tonight’s game against Arsenal.. “If we want diversity, people should have a choice about whether to take the injection or not. We have to respect everyone. We’re getting a lot of boosters. We have some players who have not taken first injection who we think may take it this weekend. We’ve some doctors and nurses coming to help us. It’s really important we can try and get as many vaccinated as we can.”

Moyes, it must be said, volunteered in his local village during the shutdown in spring of 2020 by delivering food to those in greatest need and has outlined his own pro-vaccine stance on more than one occasion but going soft on players who are holding out due to unproven conspiracy theories, unfounded medical concerns or whatever other selfish reason is a rare misstep near the end of a remarkable personal year.

The battle is clear, the prognosis is far from ideal but to keep our sport on track every player, coach and fan has a duty.

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