LONDON- The Premier League said on Monday it recorded 36 new COVID-19 cases last week even as the English top-flight season continues without pause despite a surge in infections across the country and numerous fixtures being postponed.
Since the new Premier League season kicked off, 207 players and staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in 21 rounds of testing.
Five Premier League matches have been postponed due to COVID-19 cases since December, with Aston Villa's home game against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday the latest to be called off, leading to a shuffle in fixtures.
Despite growing pressure to temporarily halt the season, the Premier League decided not to schedule a mid-season break, saying it had "confidence in its COVID-19 protocols to enable fixtures to be played".
The league's decision to continue playing drew criticism from Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce, who said it was "morally wrong" for soccer to continue as COVID-19 infections continue to rise in the country.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta echoed Bruce's comments: "Morally, with the situation we have in this country and worldwide, to keep doing what we are doing is a little bit of a strange feeling," Arteta said.
There has been more than 3 million COVID-19 cases and more than 81,000 deaths in the United Kingdom, according to a Reuters tally.
Newcastle, Manchester City and Fulham have all suffered virus outbreaks in recent weeks leading to games being called off as a number of players either tested positive or had to go into self-isolation for being in close contact with someone who had tested positive.
Scotland's lower leagues were suspended for three weeks until Jan. 31 due to a surge in domestic COVID-19 cases, while three of English soccer's minor league have called for their season to be halted and declared null and void.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new national COVID-19 lockdown last week due to surging infections in the country caused by a new variant of the virus, but said the Premier League will be allowed to continue.
(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)