The Premier League is breathing a sigh of relative relief as it treads carefully along the mine laden path that leads towards a restart of the football season.
Its first batch of Covid-19 tests did not throw up a number that would have meant a major rethink and a dip in confidence about the efficacy of ‘Project Restart’.
A total of 748 players and staff at 19 of the 20 clubs were tested and six, from three clubs, came back positive. Those six will now have to isolate for seven days but training at each club will continue as planned. Medical confidentiality prevents the league from naming the individuals or the clubs concerned.
The next set of results are due on Saturday after a second round of samples are collected towards the end of the week. Under the current protocol players will be tested twice every seven days although that may be revised if the government’s medical advice changes.
Giving a sample itself is not too intrusive and, according to one player I spoke to, who was tested on Sunday, is over in around 30 seconds. It takes 48 hours to process and is incredibly accurate according to Avi Lasarow the CEO of Prenetics, the company with a contract for the Premier League's testing programme.
“The Covid-19 tests have a diagnostic sensitivity of 98% and specificity of 100% so therefore the total accuracy is 98.8% in terms of if you appreciate our current testing approach, we’re testing twice a week, that increases that accuracy even further,” Lasarow said.
The company could be required to carry out tens of thousands of collections between now and the end of the season, costing the Premier League around £4m but at no time Lasarow says will they be using resources at the expense of the NHS. “Of course if the NHS directed us as a consortium to change a priority in any way whatsoever to accommodate their needs, we would naturally do that.”
Currently training is ‘socially distanced’ so there is no direct player-to-player contact. However, that is to change soon, assuming clubs accept the league’s next phase of medical protocols. If and when it does, testing will become an even more important part of football’s new normal.