The St Mirren squad was put in lockdown last night as they awaited further Covid-19 tests after it was revealed that seven coaches at the club had returned positive results for coronavirus.
A St Mirren statement read: “Our testing regimen has identified several members of our coaching staff have tested positive for Covid-19.
“We immediately contacted the health authorities, the SPFL, the SFA have also been informed. Thus far no members of the playing staff have tested positive.”
Saints’ final pre-season friendly against St Johnstone on Saturday was immediately cancelled, with the new Premiership season just over a week away.
The football authorities also announced that clubs would have to revert to twice-weekly testing after the requirements were relaxed earlier this month.
A statement from the league and governing body read: “The Joint Response Group has been notified that St Mirren Football Club has today returned seven positive tests for Covid-19. We immediately contacted the Scottish government and the office of the clinical director for Scotland to relay this information.
“As a consequence, St Mirren’s planned friendly match at home to St Johnstone, scheduled to take place on Saturday 25 July, has been cancelled.
“In light of this and other recent events, the JRG hereby notifies Scottish Premiership clubs that with immediate effect they must revert to twice-weekly testing protocols until further notice.”
The Paisley side are due to host Livingston in their league opener on 1 August. They played Hamilton Accies in a friendly last weekend.
Clubs were also warned yesterday to ensure their Covid-19 test results are up to date well ahead of match times or they risk being unable to play.
Rangers and Motherwell were the latest sides to be caught out by delays after their televised friendly at Ibrox on Wednesday kicked off two hours late as they awaited clearance from testers.
There are growing concerns surrounding the ability of outside laboratories to turnaround the samples quickly enough, leaving teams in limbo as they wait for the all clear. And the league governing body is expected to intervene and ask members to tighten up protocols and submit tests earlier ahead of the new Premiership season, which kicks off next weekend.
The Scottish government gave the go ahead for the top flight to begin a week on Saturday but clubs have been told that permission could be revoked.
“Any failure to adhere to the agreed testing protocol will risk removal by the SG [Scottish government] of the approval for the dispensation given to Premiership clubs compared to the general public in Scotland,” said a letter sent to clubs by the Scottish FA/SPFL joint response group .
“Continued positive relations with SG are particularly important as the JRG [Joint Response Group] works to progress plans with SG to permit spectators to attend matches.”
Wednesday night’s match at Ibrox was delayed when it took longer than anticipated for the latest weekly findings to be returned from the testing centre. Without the paperwork detailing negative results for players and staff, the game could not get under way.
That left broadcaster Premier Sports juggling programmes to fill the hole in their schedule and then to accommodate the later kick-off time. While there is an understanding that clubs are still adapting to the unprecedented circumstances and are using their pre-season warm-up games to fine tune their procedures, the SPFL do not want the new league campaign to be blighted by delays and postponements.
Celtic and Ross County are the only Scottish top-flight clubs to have invested in their own testing machines, costing £35,000 each, while the rest have their tests analysed externally, at a private laboratory in England.
Hibernian had to call off their friendly with Ross County on Saturday when they were caught out by test results not arriving on time. That infuriated the Highland club, who were already on the road to Edinburgh when it became clear that the Leith side would not have the necessary paperwork in place in time for the bounce game to go ahead.
That prompted Hibs to bring their once-a-week testing forward to give themselves greater leeway, while County manager Stuart Kettlewell has warned other clubs that if they cannot get their act together and show that they can operate effectively within the new parameters, the fear is “the Government will step in and tell us we can’t play
“It’s as simple as that because without the test results you cannot play,” added Kettlewell.
Those concerns will see the matter tabled at today’s SPFL board meeting as the governing body looks to minimise the risk of disruption. As a members’ organisation it is unlikely that there will be any moves to introduce fines or major penalties if clubs should fail to give themselves a generous enough time frame to have tests carried out and the results returned ahead of match days. But it is anticipated that they ask for a more failsafe approach.
The majority of English Premier League clubs have processed their own results within 24-36 hours but those who have balked at the cost of buying in their own equipment and choose instead to take swabs which are then sent off to labs to get tested can wait two to three days for results.
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