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THE Premier League was waiting to learn whether Leicester can play at home this weekend — or for the foreseeable future — today, after the city was placed under tougher restrictions due to a spike in coronavirus cases.
The Foxes are due to host Crystal Palace at the King Power Stadium on Saturday but it is not yet clear whether, or where, the match will be played.
Although Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the match will go ahead, the league’s chief executive Richard Masters told MPs that contingency plans are in place for the game to be moved to a neutral venue or even postponed if necessary.
The Safety Advisory Group, which has the final say on the game, was meeting today evening to discuss the situation.
Leicester’s non-essential shops will be closed from Tuesday after cases in the city accounted for 10 per cent of all nationwide positive tests over the past week.
The planned easing of restrictions on Saturday, such as the reopening of pubs and restaurants, will not take place there, with people having been advised against all but essential travel.
Masters said the outbreak highlighted the fragility of the league’s Project Restart plans, but said contingencies were in place for such an occurrence.
“We have had a huge dialogue with the authorities about the concept of neutral venues,” he told MPs at a Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee evidence session.
“If what is happening in Leicester — we’re waiting to hear — does affect the club’s ability to host home games, either the match on Saturday against Crystal Palace at 3pm or subsequent matches, then we have the opportunity to put those matches elsewhere or postpone until a date when it is safe to do so.
“I’m yet to understand what the impact of the partial lockdown in Leicester is going to have on the club. But clearly it demonstrates the fragile project that we have on here. We can’t take it for granted.”
Masters said there was a risk of the season not being completed if there were multiple lockdowns like this, and he said: “It is all dependent on the course of the virus. We have shown our flexibility to that, but we have to operate within government guidelines.”
Leicester take on Everton at Goodison Park tonight, and Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti said he has said he has “no concerns” over the Foxes’ visit to Goodison Park.
“Premier League protocol gives us the confidence that everything will be OK,” the Italian said. “I’m not happy for the city of Leicester, it’s in lockdown, but we don’t have concerns.”
Racing was also cleared to go ahead in Leicester despite the stricter lockdown measures, with a nine-race meeting going ahead behind closed doors last night.
Oakham trainer Mick Appleby criticised the decision, having withdrawn his three intended runners, saying: “I just don’t think it’s worth the risk. It would have made common sense to call the meeting off. It’s not doing racing any favours whatsoever.”
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