Ipswich Town back calls for football 'circuit breaker' as club say new coronavirus strain caused outbreak and more positive tests expected

Manager Paul Lambert and general manager Lee O'Neill have both tested positive for coronavirus

Ipswich Town manager Paul Lambert and general manager of football operations Lee O'Neill. Photos: Steve Waller - Credit: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town have backed the idea of a ‘football circuit breaker’ after confirming the new strain of Covid-19 has driven an outbreak within the squad. 

Paul Lambert and five other members of the playing staff tested positive for the virus on Saturday evening, which has led to the postponement of Town’s next two games, while general manager Lee O’Neill has now also returned a positive test.  

The club say the much-discussed new strain of the virus, which is thought to spread more quickly, is the reason for the outbreak and believe their last game, against Burton on December 15, could be the source.

Though testing has been sporadic during the opening four months of the season the Blues stress they have followed all EFL guidelines during that period, as evidenced by the fact they have previously only returned two positive tests (Kayden Jackson and Matt Gill) over the course of the pandemic. 

The club’s lead physio, Matt Byard, is expecting further positives when the remaining members of the squad are tested again on Wednesday and that, coupled with outbreaks at Portsmouth, Peterborough and Sunderland, has led the club to believe a significant break in action could help break chains of transmission and maintain safety for all involved. 

“In previous cases at clubs, the confirmatory source can normally be isolated down to a coach journey or a lengthy meeting indoors. We however, have had the same protocols in place since we started pre-season training,” Byard said. 

Luke Chambers walks from the pitch with head physio Matt Byard, after being substituted following an

Luke Chambers (left) has started the majority of games for Ipswich Town in a Covid-19 affected 2020. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

“The players are still arriving to training in kit, training and then going straight home. No showers are in use, no canteen where they eat communally. If you consider a staged return to normal behaviour at the training ground in five phases, then we are at the beginning of phase two. 

“We have only had two cases here in nine months [Kayden Jackson and Matt Gill] so to get seven in one week is alarming. 

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“I have looked at every avenue and the only scenario for transmission has to be our match against Burton last week and because it seems to have been passed on in a matchday environment, it is confirmation of a new development. We still have stringent protocols in place in terms of use of the dressing-rooms, I might add. 

“We are doing things the right way. We always have done. Players and staff deserve a great deal of credit as they adhere routinely to the guidelines and the new way of operating. This has been thoroughly supported by senior staff and executives.

"It would have been very easy to allow players and staff to change in the building and have showers, especially given the change in weather.  Our adherence to guidelines is still likely to have reduced potential transmission risk, even under these circumstances. 

“This new strain of the virus clearly transmits far quicker than the original Covid strain and we have the data and symptom profile that confirms that is what we are dealing with here. 

“We have tested all the playing and coaching staff and from the results, we can detect the level of infection and see the patterns emerging, however it’s the speed of the transmission that tells us it’s the new strain. 

“We will be re-testing all the staff on Wednesday who have previously tested negative and I do have concerns that there will be more positive cases. It’s important to recognise the timing of testing is absolutely crucial in determining the diagnosis.  A wrongly timed test can very likely produce a false result.  We have to very closely determine potential transmission risks and consider the period of incubation before becoming infectious. 

“We have been complimented by the EFL for the procedures we have had in place at the training ground and on matchday - and that is one of the reasons they have become very concerned over the latest developments. 

“I know the EFL are looking at bringing in extra measures, with maybe more testing for example. I have always supported routine testing to secure a return to playing programme. Personally, with so many clubs affected by this presently and this new strain development, football may benefit from a ‘circuit breaker’ before a return to playing securely.” 

Town have now closed their training ground and told players and staff to stay away following the positive tests at the club.

The Blues' planned trip to Peterborough on Saturday was postponed due to a virus case within the Posh camp, before the outbreak at Ipswich saw the games with Northampton Town, on Boxing Day, and AFC Wimbledon (December 29) postponed.

New dates for those three fixtures will be announced in due course with Ipswich's next scheduled match coming at Fleetwood Town on January 2.

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The EFL currently have no plans to suspend the League One season despite the rising number of coronavirus cases throughout the division, we understand. 

Ipswich Town are the latest club to see games postponed due to an outbreak within the club, with manager Paul Lambert, five unnamed players and general manager Lee O’Neill all testing positive over the weekend. 

That’s led to the club’s next two games being postponed, while the scheduled game at Peterborough last Saturday was called off due to a positive test in the Posh camp. Portsmouth and Sunderland have also had outbreaks within the squad in recent days, while Millwall and Rotherham have called off games in the Championship following positive tests. 

However, it’s understood the EFL currently have no plans to suspend the season, with clubs still instructed to follow the strict protocol set out by the league and complete scheduled games as normal should both sides be in a position to. 

That policy could change in line with the virus situation in the country, though. 

Ipswich Town have today backed calls for a ‘circuit breaker’ to try and halt the spread of the virus within the game but, as with a full-on suspension, the EFL are understood to have no plans in that regard as present. 

The Blues have also revealed their belief the outbreak within the club is caused by the new strain of the virus, which is thought to spread more easily, while it’s expected further positive tests will be returned when the squad are tested again on Wednesday. 

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