English Premier League to Play On Despite Harsh UK Lockdown Against Fast-Spreading Mutant Strain

Posted on: January 5, 2021, 07:09h.

Last updated on: January 5, 2021, 07:09h.

The UK from Wednesday will enter its toughest lockdown since last March as the country battles a mutant strain of coronavirus that threatens to engulf its National Health Service. However, the English Premier League and other elite sports will be permitted to continue without spectators, a silver lining for both sports fans and the betting industry. Horse racing can also operate behind closed doors.

Arsenal and EPL star Pierre Emerick Aubameyang celebrates a goal in an empty stadium with his trademark flip. But the sports betting industry was also doing somersaults on Monday. (Image: Richard Heathcote/Reuters)

Amateur sports must cease, however, as even open-air sports venues – such as golf courses, tennis courts, and outdoor gyms – will be forced to close.

On Monday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered all schools and non-essential retail to shutter and told people to stay at home – a directive that can be enforced by law. Politicians in Scotland also introduced similarly tough new rules on Monday, joining stricter regimes already in place in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Billions on the Line

The EPL, the most bet-upon sports league in the world, was forced to shut down ahead of the country’s first lockdown, disrupting the 2019-20 season and hammering betting revenues. But professional leagues have since established strict testing regimes and protocols to restrict the spread of the virus, making outdoor sports like soccer relatively low risk.

Nevertheless, several EPL games have been postponed this season – including Manchester City versus Everton late December – because of coronavirus outbreaks.

The new restrictions will see the closure once again of the nation’s retail betting outlets, many of which were already shuttered by regional pandemic restrictions.

Resultant losses there can be partially offset by the inevitable uptick in online gaming, as was reported during the first lockdown. But the lack of disruption to sports will see bookies breathe huge sighs of relief.

The UK sports betting market was worth more than £5 billion ($6.1 billion) in the fiscal year 2019, with the vast majority of that generated by the EPL.

EPL chiefs will also be hugely relieved for the sake the league’s finances and those of its teams. Overseas media partners have paid a cumulative £4.35 billion ($5.32 billion) for the broadcast rights to the 2019-22 seasons and could sue for billions if the league fails to deliver its quota of games.

Meanwhile, the government sees soccer as an important component of the national mood as the public faces a bleak winter lockdown that could last until March. Johnson warned that the coming weeks would be the “hardest yet.”

70 Percent More Contagious

His words came as the UK became the first nation to begin using the homegrown vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

The government plans to administer at least one shot to four priority groups, numbering around 13 million people, by mid-February in a bid to fend off the fast-spreading variant.

Scientists believe the new strain, which appears to have developed in southeast England, is up to 70 percent more contagious than previous strains.

As of Tuesday, January 5, there were 23,873 people in hospital with COVID-19 in the UK. Almost 60,000 new cases were recorded on the same day. The country has among the highest deathrates per capita from COVID-19 in the world.

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