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Norwich City player revealed as COVID-19-positive after playing match; now what?

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How will the Premier League attempt to handle inevitable exposure?

Sport Coronavirus - Saturday 14th March Photo by Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images

The novel coronavirus is here to stay, and the life must find a way to deal with it and continue on. For the Premier League, as for most of football and professional sports, the solution involves near-constant testing of all involved, from players and coaches to staff and referees.

The good news is that in the Premier League, after a total of 8687 tests across 8 rounds of testing, only 16 have come back as positive. That’s just a 0.2 per cent infection rate (all believed to be asymptomatic), well below anything seen out in the general population. The plan is working, and accordingly the Premier League’s set to join many other leagues around Europe, including the Bundesliga and, as of this weekend, Spain’s La Liga, in restarting.

But the plan is not foolproof. Players and staff do not live in hermetically sealed bubbles. More pertinently, the tests take time to produce results, up to 48 hours in some cases, but usually around 24. So there is a chance that an infected individual could come in contact with others during that window of time.

And that’s precisely what happened on Friday, when a player for Norwich City tested positive, and had learned of the result only after the Canaries played against Spurs in a friendly. There was a similar situation in a friendly between Manchester United and Stoke City earlier in the week, but there the infection was caught before the match started and the game was called off. This time, apparently the player was involved.

So what happens now?

The Norwich player in question has gone into the customary 7-day isolation, but so far, no one else has had to do so at either team.

As explained by Spurs, that’s because the “close contact” is defined in the regulations as being within 2m of someone else for at least 15 minutes, and apparently no one fit that criteria. This working definition for close contact is fairly standard across most health agencies, including in Denmark where a landmark study first brought this to public consciousness. That study said that the average time spent in close contact is only about 90 seconds in a 90-minute match, with no player spending more than 11 minutes next to one specific individual. That amount of close contact time is even less during a new-normal training session.

Of course, this doesn’t rule out transmission, which can happen in an instant. But it does reduce the likelihood, which is the name of the game. We cannot completely prevent or cure COVID-19 at this time, so we have to try to minimize its spread while returning to some semblance of normalcy.

As long as cases remain rare and isolated, the Premier League can continue to go ahead. Hopefully, we won’t have to ever face up to the prospect of another outbreak or a second spike, which may or may not be inevitable.