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toon concern Newcastle Covid crisis rings alarm bells for all other Premier League clubs


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Unable to train: There are fears in Newcastle that star man Allan Saint-Maximin may be sidelined with fatigue for all of January. Photo: Getty Images

Unable to train: There are fears in Newcastle that star man Allan Saint-Maximin may be sidelined with fatigue for all of January. Photo: Getty Images

Unable to train: There are fears in Newcastle that star man Allan Saint-Maximin may be sidelined with fatigue for all of January. Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United's lingering problems following a mass coronavirus infection before Christmas serve as a dire warning to the rest of the Premier League as the game's governing body attempts to keep the division on track after the outbreak at Manchester City.

Although Newcastle were only forced to postpone one match, the away game at Aston Villa on December 5, when the virus ripped through the training ground earlier this month, prompting the club to close the facility for 10 days, manager Steve Bruce is still dealing with the serious consequences of that outbreak.

When a "biosecure bubble" is penetrated by Covid, as has happened with Manchester City this week and several other clubs lower down the football pyramid - including Sunderland who have had to postpone four successive games with 13 players testing positive - the ability of the virus to run rampant, in the words of one senior official, "is scary, worrying and incredibly difficult to overcome".

Newcastle had a total of 19 positive tests, among staff and players, during that worrying period at the start of the month and the after effects continue to cause serious problems for team selection and preparation.

Contagious

The fact that the strain of the virus that swept through Newcastle's first-team squad is not thought to have been the new mutant strain that is currently causing huge concern in the south-east of England is another worry for the game's governing bodies, as the new version is more contagious and transmits far more easily.

Newcastle are still without two key players as they have not fully recovered, almost a month after testing positive for Covid-19. Captain Jamaal Lascelles has only just returned to light training after missing five games, while winger Allan Saint-Maximin is still unable to train and there are fears he could be out of action for most of January as he is so fatigued.

Although professional athletes with high levels of fitness, footballers are not immune from the complications attached to so-called 'Long Covid' and if more outbreaks occur, more players are likely to suffer.

That should set an alarm off for those concerned with player welfare, even though there is huge pressure to ensure football continues to be played during the worst of the pandemic in order to provide much-needed entertainment during lockdown restrictions.

Although the plight of Saint-Maximin and Lascelles has been made public, it is understood there are also complex hidden problems which Newcastle have wrestled with in the weeks following the mass infection.

These are largely down to muscle fatigue and exhaustion, with players who have since returned to the side finding it difficult to recover after games, which could put their welfare at risk given the relentless demands of this condensed campaign.

Defender Federico Fernandez, who has confirmed he was one of the players to catch the virus, had to be taken off at half-time in the 1-1 draw against Fulham on December 19 because of tiredness. His defensive partner, Fabian Schar, was only able to train for a couple of days before he started against Manchester City on St Stephen's Day.

Other players have also endured similar complications with recovery after matches, while their physical statistics in games have been lower than before the virus. Those issues are easing but the return to peak fitness has been slower than anyone predicted. And tonight, they host reigning league champions Liverpool.

The fact Newcastle have won just one out of their five games since the outbreak which have included a shock Carabao Cup quarter-final defeat to Championship side Brentford, will have been noted by other clubs and, particularly, managers.

There is also the human impact to consider, with knock-on effects for the families of players involved, with some of those infected taking the virus home to their loved ones.

On top of this, Newcastle have, since bringing the outbreak under control, been deprived of players because they have come into contact with infected people outside of the club and have been ordered to self-isolate.

With the virus so prevalent in local communities, it is inevitable that more players will be at risk.

Newcastle were only testing players once a week before the outbreak but have since increased the regularity of testing. They are awaiting the results of the latest round of tests after facing City, just two days before the Manchester club revealed they were closing their training ground and postponing the game against Everton on Monday night.

It is not yet known whether the Magpies have suffered any more infections after the game at the Etihad Stadium, although the medical advice at this stage is that the risks involved of catching Covid during a match are extremely low.

However, that advice was agreed by medical experts before the new mutant strain emerged.

  • Newcastle United v Liverpool, Live, Premier Sports 1, 8.0

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