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rising cases Premier League clubs fear games will go behind closed doors and it might happen soon

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Matches were played without fans after the first Covid lockdown (Paul Ellis/PA)

Matches were played without fans after the first Covid lockdown (Paul Ellis/PA)

Matches were played without fans after the first Covid lockdown (Paul Ellis/PA)

Premier League chiefs are scrambling to make every effort to keep stadiums open, amid fears that the UK government will again halt mass gatherings amid a spike in Covid cases.

Top-flight clubs have agreed stricter measures in a week when two Premier League matches – Tottenham v Brighton on Sunday and Brentford v Manchester United on Tuesday – have been postponed due to positive Covid cases.

Anyone wishing to enter a Premier League training ground will be required to take a lateral flow test outside, while twice-weekly PCR testing is also being introduced.

The decision on increased testing was taken at a clubs’ shareholders’ meeting on Tuesday, and will sit alongside existing emergency measures around face coverings, limiting time in the treatment room and observing social distancing which were reintroduced last week.

The moves come as the highly transmissible Omicron variant becomes the dominant strain of coronavirus in the UK.

The league announced on Monday there had been 42 positive Covid cases among Premier League players and staff last week – the most it had recorded in any previous seven-day period.

With the season about to enter the busy festive programme, clubs are desperate to avoid a raft of postponements which would create a backlog later in the campaign and could impact upon the integrity of the competition.

Now there are concerns that mass gatherings will be halted imminently by UK government officials, who saw their latest upscaling of Covid restrictions passed through the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The measures require spectators to provide proof of full vaccination or a recent negative lateral flow test in order to enter venues holding more than 10,000 people.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said on Tuesday the measures were “proportionate” to the situation the country faced at this moment, but refused to rule out even stricter measures such as forcing clubs to reduce capacity at matches.

“What we are doing is focusing on the situation at the moment and that we’re carefully monitoring the situation,” he said.

“The Prime Minister said yesterday that we will have to deal with this Covid situation as the facts tell us, so I can’t rule anything out. But we need to deal with the situation as it is at the moment and we believe the measures brought in place now are proportionate.”

Brighton chief Paul Barber is among those who have expressed a concern that behind closed doors matches may return, with Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira among the voices suggesting that would be a disaster for the game.

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"This is the worst-case scenario," said Vieira as he was asked about the prospect of playing games in empty stadiums once again. "From my personal point of view, it is a disaster to play football matches without the fans.

'It is something that is difficult to process and I hope we will not get there because what the games needs is to have fans at the stadium."

Germany's Bundesliga has already had games played without fans in recent weeks and with the Conservative government in the UK suggesting they are expecting 200,000 new cases of the Omicron variant every day from this point forward, with that number multiplying every two days, further restrictions now seem inevitable.

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For three weeks the crowds will make their way to a grand building in north London, affectionately known as the ‘Ally Pally’

For three weeks the crowds will make their way to a grand building in north London, affectionately known as the ‘Ally Pally’

For three weeks the crowds will make their way to a grand building in north London, affectionately known as the ‘Ally Pally’

There are also concerns that the PDC World Darts Championships will be forced to play all matches behind-closed-doors, with all tickets for the event already sold out long ago.

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