LONDON: Coronavirus outbreaks at Leeds United and Watford have led to two Premier League matches scheduled for Sunday being postponed in the latest disruption to the competition caused by cases rising in squads.

Leeds were due to travel to Liverpool and Watford were set to play at Wolverhampton Wanderers as part of the Boxing Day programme that still features seven games.

The Premier League has now called off 12 matches due to coronavirus issues in two weeks, with players having to isolate after testing positive or if they are unvaccinated and a close contact of a Covid-19 case.

“The league is aware that the decision to postpone these two matches will disappoint supporters and understands their frustrations at a special time of year when fans look forward to attending and watching football games,” the Premier League said in a statement on Thursday.

Games are also being wiped out lower down the leagues, with six of Sunday’s 10 matches in the second-tier Championship postponed.

The Leeds training ground has been closed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, with five new positive cases among the squad and staff reported on Thursday.

“All of the cases we have experienced are asymptomatic which we believe is due to our high vaccine take-up,” Leeds said. “The positive cases, combined with our well-documented injury issues, means that we would not have enough recognised first-team players to meet the Premier League requirements for the fixture.”

Watford told the league that with players coming out of isolation they expect to be able to play West Ham United on Tuesday.

Everton’s request for their match against Burnley to be postponed has been rejected despite being without 11 players due to injury or Covid infection.

The situation is worse in the lower divisions with four second-tier Championship games scheduled for Boxing Day postponed due to Covid-19 cases while 11 games in League One and League Two were also called off.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Britain, where the omicron variant is now dominant, have surged by almost 60% in a week.

After recording a record 90 positive cases last week, the Premier League urged players to get vaccinated with 16% yet to receive a single dose. While more than 90% of players in Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga have been fully vaccinated, the Premier League said Monday that only 77% of its players were doubled jabbed.

No restrictions have yet been put in place for the size of crowds at matches in England, although supporters do have to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test taken in the previous 48 hours.

Sport in Wales will be forced back behind closed doors from December 26, while in Scotland a restriction of 500 for outdoor public events from the same day has seen Scottish Premiership clubs bring forward their winter break by a week.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2021

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