Elite sport can continue behind closed doors during a new national lockdown in England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions for the country, in a television address on Monday evening, to combat the spread of coronavirus, particularly the new variant, with measures expected to last until mid-February.
The Premier League and other elite sports, including rugby’s Gallagher Premiership, have strict testing regimes in place and established Covid protocols.
Professional sport in Scotland is also unaffected by new coronavirus restrictions, after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a general stay at home instruction from midnight.
The announcement of a third national lockdown comes as the UK recorded 58,784 new coronavirus cases on Monday – the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic.
It is the seventh day in a row that there have been more than 50,000 daily cases.
The UK’s coronavirus alert level was raised from Level 4 to Level 5 for the first time on Monday.
Golf courses and tennis courts to close
Under the new restrictions:
- People are being told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, such as those who work in the constructions sector or who are critical workers.
- Exercise is allowed – preferably limited to once a day – with their household (or support bubble) or with one other person from another household, and you should not travel outside your local area.
The government confirmed outdoor team sports will not be permitted while leisure centres and gyms will close, as will other indoor and outdoor leisure facilities including:
- swimming pools
- golf courses
- tennis courts
- bowling alleys
- dance studios
- riding arenas at riding centres
- climbing walls and climbing centres
In response to the announcement, England Golf said they were “extremely disappointed with the news, having made a strong case in recent months to keep golf open during the national lockdowns and in the regional tier system”.
A statement from England Golf, which campaigned hard for the reopening of courses when they were closed first time around, added: “It is with great regret that we share this news with you, but please be assured that we will continue to make the case for golf to reopen whenever possible.”
The Lawn Tennis Association said: “Tennis is a naturally socially distanced sport that is safe to play and gives people the opportunity to get outside and exercise with a friend or relative.
Swim England expressed their disappointment at the closures of pools and urged the government to provide operators “the necessary financial support to get them through these troubling times.”
Chief executive Jane Nickerson added: “We will continue to keep fighting for pools to be classed as essential services and exempt from any future restrictions.
“So many people with a range of debilitating physical and mental health conditions rely on exercise in the water to help them manage their conditions.”
The Premier League, halted in March before the first national lockdown, has already postponed four fixtures since the start of December, including three last week, due to outbreaks of the virus at Manchester City, Fulham and Newcastle.
However, England’s top flight insists it has “confidence” in its Covid-19 protocols, with no plans to pause the season despite a rise in positive cases.
The Premier League is yet to announce the results from its latest set of coronavirus testing, but a season-high figure of 18 positive coronavirus tests among players and staff were confirmed between December 21-27.
All 72 English Football League clubs are being tested this week, which is expected to provide a picture of the scale of infections in the Championship, League One and League Two.
So far this season 52 fixtures in the three divisions in the Football League have been postponed due to coronavirus issues.
The FA Cup third round – which has 32 fixtures spanning four days – starts on Friday.
‘Non-elite’ football suspended by the FA
While the Premier League and the EFL will be exempt under the new lockdown measures, steps three to six of the National League system, tiers three to seven of the women’s football pyramid and grassroots football will stop.
The Women’s FA Cup will also be halted as it is currently classed as non-elite at this stage of the competition.
A Football Association statement read: “Dialogue will continue with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, leagues, competitions and County Football Associations and we will provide further updates for the 2020-21 Vitality Women’s FA Cup, Buildbase FA Vase and non-elite football when relevant.
“We would like to thank the football community once again for its hard work, resilience and understanding during such an incredibly challenging period for both the game and wider society.”
The government placed almost all of England under Tier 3 or 4 coronavirus restrictions on December 30, which barred sports fans from attending games.
A maximum of 4,000 spectators had been allowed back at outdoor events from December 2 in tier one areas, with up to 2,000 people permitted in Tier 2.
Meanwhile, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have also confirmed to Sky Sports News that international football transfers – and international travel from players – are unaffected by the latest lockdown, given elite sport exemptions.