English Football League clubs have recorded 112 positive tests for COVID-19 among staff and players within a week of testing.
A total of 66 EFL clubs underwent mandatory testing for the first time since November, and it has revealed the extent to which Covid is spreading in the game.
League officials and clubs were braced for a high infection rate after more than 50 matches in the EFL have been postponed in recent weeks and a large number of cases reported.
However, the results show that while there are hotspots, with three clubs accounting for 35 cases, many clubs have just one or no positive tests. The remaining six clubs will be tested before their next game.
There has been further disruption ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup third round ties, which have seen some clubs forced to field youth teams and Shrewsbury Town’s game with Southampton called off after an ‘astronomical’ outbreak at the League One Club.
The EFL tested 3,507 players and staff at 66 clubs, returning 112 positive cases, an infection rate of 3.2%.
“The current strain has wiped right through our staff,” said Brian Caldwell, Shrewsbury chief executive, who is not revealing the exact number of cases.
“The results we got back on Tuesday were quite astronomical, we were all really concerned.’
In the Premier League, clubs are now tested twice a week.
Forty players and staff tested positive for Covid in the latest rounds of testing in the top flight this week, double the number of the week before and the highest figure to date.
Some 2,295 people were tested and the infection rate was 1.7%. In addition, four Premier League games have also been postponed due to Covid.
The results come amid growing pressure to suspend football, fuelled by the number of virus outbreaks at clubs and the the actions of high profile players who have ignored Covid restrictions and attended or organised parties during the festive period.
However, the EFL insists a suspension of matches is not on the agenda and the results vindicate their approach.
In a statement, the EFL’s Medical Advisors Dr Richard Higgins and Dr.Subhashis Basu said the infection rate in the clubs reflects the spread of the new variant of Covid nationwide.
“The low reported numbers across the overwhelming majority of clubs means we remain confident that our protocols continue to mitigate against the spread of infection as intended.
“The protocols are allowing us to continue playing fixtures as scheduled but we cannot be complacent, which is why recently enhanced matchday and non-matchday COVID protocols have been issued to underpin the re-introduction of a league-wide testing programme which commences next week.
“Medical advice continues to support that following these protocols is the most successful route to mitigating against the spread of infection.”
COVID protocols in the EFL have not required weekly testing this season.
Testing has taken place periodically, but clubs are required to give a test where a player or staff member has symptoms.
The relatively infrequent tests in the EFL have led to concerns that COVID-19 may be spreading in clubs unchecked, particularly where people are affected but have no symptoms.
The emergence of mutant COVID, which spreads more quickly, has coincided with an increased number of cases and sharpened those fears.
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