Exclusive: Premier League to end twice-weekly PCR tests

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The Premier League has told its 20 clubs that their Covid-19 testing regime will no longer include twice-weekly PCR tests for players and staff, with a greater reliance on lateral flow tests (LFTs) to keep track of the changing picture of infections.

The league’s chief executive Richard Masters wrote to clubs to tell them that, from Thursday, the focus will be on LFTs with players and staff undergoing them the day before matches and on all training days. Anyone returning a positive test will still have to take a laboratory-checked PCR test for confirmation.

The switch is in line with the new government policy that will place less emphasis on PCR tests. The Premier League’s clinical oversight group believe that the most effective method of surveilling the infection among players is to use LFTs. The data has shown some PCRs returning positive cases long after the virus has cleared. The clubs were told that the twice-weekly PCRs were no longer providing the benefits they did at the start of the Omicron outbreak.

The Telegraph has reported that across the public government health officials have drawn up plans to restrict PCR tests to those who display symptoms. Under those measures anyone who is asymptomatic – around 40 per cent of cases – will be able to return to work more swiftly. Premier League footballers and staff testing positive will still take a PCR, but will no longer be subject to the mandatory twice-weekly PCR tests.

The Premier League is facing a backlog of games because of the postponements over the Christmas period, although for the time being the focus switches to the League Cup semi-finals and the FA Cup third-round weekend. The league fixture schedule does not resume until Tuesday. There are still 19 postponed games on the Premier League’s official fixture list which are yet to be designated a date. As things stand, 91 per cent of fixtures scheduled to date have been fulfilled.

The Premier League is still in what it terms “emergency measures” implemented in mid-December which have seen a marked increase in the testing programme and greater restrictions placed on social mixing at training grounds and stadiums. The most recent cohort of 14,250 tests carried out in the period from Dec 27 to Sunday returned 94 new positive cases. That was the first fall in positive cases for eight weeks.

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