Isolate Premier League squads or season can't be completed says top virologist Marc van Ranst

  • Video report by ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott

A top European virologist, who is advising UEFA and the Belgium government during the coronavirus pandemic, has cast doubt on the Premier League's ability to finish this season safely.

Marc van Ranst said if "Project Restart" involves teams playing two games in a week, the strategy is "not going to work", unless squads and support staff are put into isolation from the day they start training.

Van Ranst told ITV News that for one team to play two games in quick succession adds to the risk of infection, saying: "If you’re going to play more than one game a week that’s not going to work because your time in between matches is shorter than the incubation time.

"The mean incubation time for Covid-19 is five days, so you will never be able to say for sure you are not going to develop symptoms."

He did concede you can reduce the risk by putting players in quarantine: "If you isolate the team for two weeks and that team doesn’t meet anyone else and no one is infected after two weeks then you are good to go."

But he also warned if just one player became infected the whole house of cards would collapse.

Some players and managers want a guarantee of rigorous testing the moment training begins, even pushing for tests to be carried out when staff arrive in the morning and again just before they leave, so they can be sure they are still virus-free before returning home to their families.

Van Ranst said scientifically that is not effective: "If you get your infection during the day, you will not be able to diagnose it in the evening.

"It takes a while for the virus to take hold and be detectable.

"It is detectable in your throat after three days before you develop symptoms, but it won’t be detectable in a couple of hours after being infected."

He also questions whether the British public would accept the level of testing football needs to return safely, especially given how few people in the country have had access to tests themselves and the number of deaths and infections still affecting the country.

"Getting a test if you’re ill is not always possible, so reserving a test for soccer players might not be the right way to do it on a societal level," he said.

If football does eventually get underway and the majority of games remain behind a paywall on either Sky, BT or Amazon, Van Ranst identifies another danger point as fans are likely to get together to watch.

"When people televise games after a long period of no football on subscription, people will congregate, that is human, but from a virological point of view that is not a good idea at this stage in the epidemic," he added.

He also points to the risk to fans when Liverpool seal their first Premier League title and the inevitability of large groups gathering to celebrate at the ground or elsewhere.

Van Ranst's observations come as the government hosts a "return-to-training" meeting of chief medical officers this week to discuss the protocols required to get major sport back safely.

They also come a day after France cancelled all football until September, with or without fans, meaning La Ligue 1 and 2 were forced to end their seasons.

And in a week when German football waits for Angela Merkel to decide whether football can return, as planned, on May 9, the Premier League has been liaising closely with its German counterpart and knows success or failure there will influence what happens here.

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson currently holds the view that football’s return will give the nation a lift, bad news out of Germany would very quickly change his opinion.

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