Premier League postpones Villa game, asks captains to order end to hugging

The sun illuminates the empty stands at Villa Park stadium in Birmingham. (Tim Goode/Pool via AP)

The coronavirus outbreak at Aston Villa has led to the postponement of another game as the Premier League holds talks with captains and managers of clubs to urge compliance with enhanced regulations.

``A significant number of players and staff remain in isolation'' at Villa, the league said on Thursday after granting the central England club's request to no longer play Everton on Sunday.

Villa, whose game against Tottenham on Wednesday was also called off, said it expects the isolating players and staff to be part of trainings again from Sunday.

The league has tightened coronavirus protocols, including telling players and managers to avoid shaking hands and hugging during goal celebrations. That message was being reinforced in virtual meetings with club captains and managers before this weekend's games.

``Some of the scenes we have seen have been brainless and give out an awful message,'' said Julian Knight, who chairs the House of Commons select committee overseeing sports policy.

The Premier League is among the elite sports competitions allowed to continue during England's third national lockdown which began last week. But the government expressed concern on Wednesday about players not adhering to the regulations when they are so closely celebrating goals _ just as the public is largely told to avoid such close contact.

Manchester City's players still hugged after Phil Foden scored in a 1-0 victory over Brighton on Wednesday.

``Sometimes the brain is a subconscious one and you are just there in the moment,'' City manager Pep Guardiola said. ``You are not thinking.''

The first game postponed this season because of COVID-19 was Villa's match against Newcastle in early December, but that was because of virus cases in the Newcastle squad. The league said it hopes to play that game on Jan. 23 since Villa and Newcastle have been eliminated from the FA Cup and will not have matches in the competition that weekend.

A more contagious variant of COVID-19 is sweeping across Britain where there have been more than 84,000 known deaths from the disease and hospitals are struggling to cope with the demands caused by an increase in infections.

A further 1,564 deaths were announced on Wednesday, the highest on a single day since the start of the pandemic last year.

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