The Premier League has revealed a record number of positive COVID-19 test results among players and club staff but said it remains "confident" matches will continue as planned.
During two rounds of testing between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3, 40 cases were found from 2,295 tests carried out. That figure is a new weekly high -- up from 18 between Dec. 21 and 27 -- and continues a worrying trend with 58 positives in the 14 days to Jan. 3 compared with just 13 cases in the previous two-week period earlier in December.
The United Kingdom was put into a third nationwide lockdown on Monday evening as a new, more transmissible strain of the coronavirus was surging across the country.
Elite sport is allowed to continue, although the Premier League has already been affected with three postponed matches, the latest of which came on Sunday, as an outbreak in the Fulham squad prompted their match against Burnley to be called off.
However, the Premier League said in a statement: "With low numbers of positive tests across the overwhelming majority of clubs, the League continues to have confidence in its COVID-19 protocols, fully backed by the government, to enable fixtures to be played as scheduled.
"Players or club staff who have tested positive will self-isolate for a period of 10 days. The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing."
The national picture continues to look bleak with more than 50,000 confirmed cases across the country in each of the past eight days. Monday's total of 58,784 was the highest daily figure in the U.K. since the pandemic began.
All 72 English Football League clubs are being tested this week amid growing concerns that the domestic programme may have to be suspended at lower levels.
To date, 52 EFL fixtures have been postponed while the FA Cup begins on Friday marking the start of 32 games across four days.