Safety has to be 'paramount' - Wigan Athletic captain
Wigan Athletic skipper Tendayi Darikwa insists safety should be the ‘paramount’ factor as Covid threatens to decimate the footballing calendar again.
As things stand, Latics’ weekend trip to Oxford is still ON, despite their opponents having confirmed Covid is in their camp.
But the number of postponed weekend matches across England's top four divisions had reached double figures by 3pm on Thursday, with the EFL announcing stricter Covid protocols including increased testing.
Club captain Darikwa says the bigger picture remains the most important one.
“We’ve all got families at home, and it’s important to keep doing the right things to limit the number of cases,” he said.
“As players, we acknowledge the privileged position we’re in, we’re very fortunate to be role models for so many people.
“We’ll just keep doing our best – on and off the pitch – to do what we can to help the situation.
“Looking up and down the country, sometimes you just can’t avoid it. But hopefully we don’t get hit by it and we can keep playing, as long as it’s safe to do so.
“The safety of the players, the staff and the fans has to be of paramount importance.
“If the authorities feel the need to call games off for a period of time, then so be it.
“From a football point of view, obviously as players none of us want that to be the case. We’d like to be able to continue to play games for as long as possible – but only if things are safe.”
Latics are already two games behind some of League One, but Darikwa says it’s something they’ll just have to deal with.
“Rearranged fixtures aren’t ideal, especially when we’ve already got a couple of games to fit in,” he added.
“It’s not really down to us, we’ll leave that to the EFL and the Premier League to decide. All we can do is stay as fit and well as we can, and make sure we’re ready to play as and when required.”
Following a run of games being called off, the EFL announced on Thursday afternoon it had moved to implement a regime of "enhanced training ground protocols" which include increased testing and also provided updated guidance on the minimum number of available players that are required to fulfil a fixture.
All clubs must now establish the red protocols for first team-training settings, which means players and staff must take a lateral flow test on the day before a game, while social distancing measures will be required outside of physical sessions, along with restrictions to the use of indoor facilities, manual therapy and group travel.
Any person who returns a positive lateral flow test will then be required to take a PCR test and isolate, in line with Government guidance.
The EFL said weekly aggregate reports on the number of tests undertaken and the number of positive results will not be provided, but it will confirm the circumstances where the results lead to a postponement of a fixture.
Clubs will be expected to play where there are 14 players, including a goalkeeper, available from the registered squad list. Under-21 players who are not on the squad list, but have played one league match, or any other contracted player not on the squad list "but otherwise would have been eligible to play" will also be included in the considerations.
The EFL said it is encouraging all eligible players and staff to get fully vaccinated and also book a booster jab to "help protect colleagues and minimise the risk of fixtures being postponed".
As of November's data, 75 per cent of players across the EFL had been either fully vaccinated, had a single jab or intend to be vaccinated.
The total of double-vaccinated players was 59 per cent, with 16 per cent set to get the jab and 25 per cent of players not currently intending to get a vaccine.
The EFL's medical advisor Dr Richard Higgins said: "Further to enhanced medical guidance recently issued, in response to a growing number of Covid-19 cases and subsequent fixtures postponements in recent days, the EFL has opted to strengthen its protocols for all clubs to help minimise the health risks to individuals while seeking to mitigate against the threat of further fixture postponements in the weeks ahead.
"Alongside enhanced protocols which includes mandatory testing ahead of matchdays, the EFL continues to strongly encourage players and staff at clubs to get fully vaccinated and obtain a booster jab if eligible to do so.
"We know that getting double-jabbed and boosted now will reduce the risk of getting seriously ill or dying from Covid-19, reduce the risk of catching or spreading Covid-19 amongst team-mates and loved ones, while helping protect against Covid-19 variants including Omicron."
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