LONDON — Members of Arsenal's playing squad went into self-isolation in a coronavirus precautionary move, forcing the postponement of the Premier League game at Manchester City later Wednesday.
It is the first game to be called off since the outbreak of the virus in the English top division, which has not played games without fans unlike in other parts of Europe. It was also the first time players in a major sports league had gone into isolation because of possible exposure.
The decision was taken due to the low risk of infection after Arsenal players came into contact with a rival team owner who announced Tuesday that he had contracted COVID-19. They met Olympiakos owner Evangelos Marinakis after the Greek team won at Arsenal in the Europa League on Feb. 27.
“The medical advice we have received puts the risk of them developing COVID-19 at extremely low,” Arsenal said in a statement. "However, we are strictly following the government guidelines which recommend that anyone coming into close contact with someone with the virus should self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact.
“As a result, the players are unavailable for tonight's match against Manchester City and the Premier League has decided the game should be postponed. The players will remain at their homes until the 14-day period expires. Four Arsenal staff, who were sitting close to Mr. Marinakis during the match will also remain at home until the 14 days are complete.”
Arsenal did not say how many players were affected but did not indicate an immediate threat to the next game going ahead on Saturday — more than two weeks after the contact with Marinakis.
“We look forward to the players and staff returning to work on Friday in preparation for our match at Brighton,” Arsenal said.
The Premier League is talking to government officials about contingencies for shutting fans out of stadiums but has yet to announce the need for that, saying City-Arsenal is a one-off postponement.
“All necessary measures are being taken and the Premier League currently has no plans to postpone any other matches,” the league said in a statement.
Since Arsenal players came into contact with Marinakis, Arsenal has played an FA Cup game at Portsmouth and hosted West Ham in the Premier League.
Marinakis, who is also owner of Nottingham Forest, went to the English second-tier club's game in London against Millwall on Friday. The club said he was diagnosed on Monday after first showing symptoms on his return to Greece.
Another Premier League club, Wolverhampton, is due to play Olympiakos in the Europa League in an empty stadium in Athens on Thursday night. UEFA rejected a request from Wolves for the last-16 game to be called off completely, with the English club stressing the “good health of our pack and the general public” is more important than football.
“Our position is that the trip poses unnecessary risks to our players, staff, supporters and the families of all who travel, at such critical and uncertain times,” Wolves said. “Our concern is also for our opponents, whose players and staff have today been tested, and will now be expected to play their part in an important fixture, under the difficult and challenging circumstances of their owner suffering with the virus.”
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Rob Harris, The Associated Press