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Is resuming Premier League football in 30 days too optimistic?

Saturday 14th March 2020
Available evidence regarding the coronavirus suggests the Premier League isn't likely to resume play in 30 days.
Available evidence regarding the coronavirus suggests the Premier League isn't likely to resume play in 30 days.

To many a fan’s disappointment but the relief of footballers and their families, the Premier League joined the global trend by closing up shop as the coronavirus pandemic spreads. Initially, the league announced a 30-day suspension of play but the virus’ track record suggests that’s an optimistic timetable.

The South China Morning Post reports the earliest documented case of Covid-19 occurred on 17 November. Within a month there were double-digit cases. On 17 December, reported cases rose by double-digits for the first time and continued to do so into 2020. On New Year's Eve, newly confirmed cases stood at 266. There were 381 the next day.

The government acted quickly, shutting down schools and businesses, quarantining entire cities and autonomous regions, placing even stricter travel restrictions on citizens than already existed. Both the European Union and the United States allow free travel within their borders. Even with advance warning, they can expect to suffer a similar rise in infections. Italy already has.

The good news from China, as reported by the Irish Times, is that new cases are tapering off. On Thursday, the number decreased to single digits for the first time in 2020. One or two were patients who’d just arrived in the infected area. Hope exists that, as people are exposed to the virus, many develop immunity.

Still, it must be stressed that it’s taken six months for China to affect Covid-19 rather than the other way around. Suspending football and other activities for 30 days seems insufficient.

Arteta Coronavirus Mpalazzotto_1

Data per South China Morning Post as of 14 March, 08:50pm GMT

Temperature reportedly affects the coronavirus’ rate of travel as well. It moves fastest at just under 9°C which, unfortunately, is ideal football weather in England. Higher temperatures apparently hinder the virus. That may give the Premier League and EFL hope that they can complete their seasons’ in May, June and July but slowing transmission of Covid-19 doesn’t mean stopping it. Allowing large gatherings in warmer weather while the virus remains robust tempts fate.

Weather alone, [such as an] increase of temperature and humidity as the spring and summer months arrive in the Northern Hemisphere, will not necessarily lead to declines in case counts without the implementation of extensive public health interventions.—Conclusion from a study conducted by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health

We have to assume the virus will continue to have the capacity to spread. It’s a false hope to say, yes, it will disappear like the flu. We can’t make that assumption. And there is no evidence.—Mike Ryan, director of emergency health programmes, World Health Organisation

Leading doctors in China now worry that the virus will thrive in the Southern Hemisphere even as it dissipates in northern climes since the seasons reverse on the other side of the Equator. Travellers from places such as Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile may bring a fresh outbreak with them if they journey north.

We think the epidemic will probably not come to an end [soon]. There will be what we call reversed imported cases. In the beginning, other countries feared us. Now, we fear them.—Professor Yuen Kwok-Yung, University of Hong Kong

If it took China nearly six months to experience a decline in new cases despite the country’s insular nature, expecting Europe and the United States to gain control over the virus in one or even two months is highly optimistic. It’s evident the powers that be waited too long to implement safety measures both inside sport and out. With Manolo Gabbiadini, Mikel Arteta, Callum Hudson Odoi and NBA star Rudy Golbert already stricken, any decision to resume competition before the count of new cases drops to single digits in all of Europe and the United States seems, on its face, dangerously rash. It’s probably best to hope the 2020/21 football calendar can start on time.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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