Tottenham have confirmed that the unnamed infected player, who was one of two stars from across the division returning a positive result in the latest round of 1,200 tests, played against them in a two-hour warm-up match at the empty Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Friday.
Fans immediately expressed fears that both squads would be required to enter isolation under UK government guidelines affecting people who have been in “close contact” with an infected person, threatening Spurs’ headline clash with Manchester United at their new stadium on Friday after Norwich host Southampton.
While the City player will enter isolation for seven days before being tested again, the players he encountered on Saturday – including the likes of England captain Harry Kane and World Cup winner Hugo Lloris – are unaffected because they did not spend at least 15 minutes within two meters of him.
Premier League clubs have agreed to the rules around isolation based on research that showed players almost never spend more than five minutes within close proximity of each other during matches, but baffled fans remained dubious about the health risks of a return which partly aims to ensure that clubs avoid having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in rebates to broadcasters.
“What a mess,” argued one Spurs fan, calling on leaders to “null and void” the rest of the campaign, while another said: “This is exactly why the Premier League restarting now is a f*cking farce – and only happening because of the money involved.
“It’s basically one rule for elite footballers and another rule for everyone else about social distancing and isolation if showing COVID-19 symptoms.”
Spurs coach Jose Mourinho described the match, in which Tottenham continued the poor form that had seen them go winless in six competitive games by losing 2-1 to the division’s bottom side, as “a good training session.”
The three-time Premier League winner and his visiting counterpart, Daniel Farke, agreed to split the match into four quarters of 30 minutes each, concluding with two Norwich goals in the final ten minutes, including a spectacular free-kick from Mario Vrancic.
“We needed minutes, we needed to know the feeling of playing here without our supporters. To have this session with another Premier League team is the best thing,” he added. “We were supposed to divide the team in two and play another match on Saturday but that was not possible.”
The Premier League has implemented a wide range of measures including temperature checks, health questionnaires and a “clinical passport” that players must present in order to be allowed on the pitch.
“Our testing has continued to return only negative results for Covid since one positive reading was confirmed almost two weeks ago,” they said in a statement.
There have now been 16 positive results from a total of 8,687 tests. The fixtures resume with two matches on Wednesday, starting with Aston Villa at home to Sheffield United before reigning champions Manchester City host Arsenal.