Scottish clubs meet to strengthen Covid protocols but resist Livingston boss call for early 'circuit-breaker' shutdown

Scottish Premiership clubs have met to discuss how they can strengthen Covid protocols amid calls for an earlier start to the scheduled winter shutdown.

Clubs met virtually to discuss the current situation and the Joint Response Group will begin a consultation to strengthen protocols. (Picture: John Devlin)
Clubs met virtually to discuss the current situation and the Joint Response Group will begin a consultation to strengthen protocols. (Picture: John Devlin)

The top tier clubs held a video conference on Thursday night after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave an Omicron update and advised Scots to stay at home, where possible, and warned that if the situation continues to worsen, tougher restrictions would be needed.

That could impact football matches, concerts, pubs and nightclubs.

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As it stands, this weekend’s games are unaffected, with a 50,000-sellout crowd still expected at the Premier Sports Cup final between Celtic and Hibs at Hampden on Sunday. But Scotland’s clinical director Jason Leitch has expressed concern, while Livingston manager David Martindale has called for an immediate shutdown.

Scottish football was halted back in March 2020 as the nation went into lockdown and when it returned last season, games were contested inside empty stadia.

Once again, English games are falling foul of covid outbreaks and with the rising transmission rate in Scotland leading to a jump in positive cases, there are fears that games north of the border will soon start to follow suit. And, Martindale says he would welcome swift action.

"I would shut the league down for two weeks," Martindale said. "It's going to have a massive impact on football over the next couple of weeks."

Already this season clubs have struggled with individual cases and more widespread outbreaks, leading to training grounds being closed, managers having to field weakened sides, and games being postponed.

Dundee United will travel to Ibrox this weekend without several players who tested positive following a team night out in Newcastle.

"Dundee United are just the start,” warned Martindale, whose squad has also been hit several times this season. “This is going to affect us all and I think it's going to get worse as the days and weeks go on. There is nothing as a football club we can do to stop this happening."

With the scheduled winter break just over two weeks away, the hope of many clubs is that they can make it through to the new year round of fixtures and then, hopefully, use the lay-off between then and the start of Scottish Cup ties on January 20 as a circuit breaker before the resumption of Premiership matches on Wednesday, January 26.

But, with games coming thick and fast, most accept that protocols, which have gradually been eased, will need to be tightened up again.

Ross County manager Malky Mackay, like his Hearts and Dundee United counterparts Robbie Neilson and Thomas Courts, is against a premature start to the shutdown.

He is all for clubs taking greater precautions, though, saying the Dingwall side had been less enthusiastic about easing back in the first place, and were one of the few clubs who stuck with red zones.

Now, following last night’s meeting, a further update on the clubs’ agreed approach to the crisis is expected on Friday, according to a JRG spokesperson.

“Following a videoconference discussion with Premiership clubs, the Joint Response Group will begin consultation on the potential strengthening of protocols between now and the winter break, to reinforce Scottish football’s measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 and the increased transmission of new variants.”

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