London, United Kingdom | XINHUA | Sports fans in England are to be allowed back into stadiums after being locked for months because of COVID-19, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday.
But for four of the Premier League giants in rival cities Liverpool and Manchester, it will be a nail-biting few days.
Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City, will not know for certain until Thursday if their grounds can re-open after a national lockdown ends on December 2.
Only stadiums in grounds in cities or towns in the two lower restriction areas, Tier 1 and 2, will be allowed to open the turnstiles once more.
Under the government plans, regions in Tier 1 will be allowed up to 4,000 spectators to watch outdoors sporting events such as Premier League matches. In Tier 2, the number will be 2,000 fans. For those in the tougher Tier 3, the gates will remain closed.
It was reported Monday that COVID-19 cases in Liverpool, where Britain’s first mass-testing program is underway, have fallen by two thirds.
It has raised hopes by city mayor Joe Anderson that Liverpool will escape being kept in Tier 3 when the national lockdown ends on December 2.
In Liverpool, local media reported Monday night: “As things stand, the city of Liverpool is hopeful it will be placed in Tier 2 having seen their infection rate fall below the national average after being chosen for a pilot scheme of mass testing aimed at minimising the spread of the coronavirus.”
Lowering the city into Tier 2 would enable Anfield and Goodison Park, home of Liverpool and Everton respectively, to admit fans.
In Manchester, officials at Manchester United and Manchester City are also playing a waiting game.
But on Monday night, the Manchester Evening News commented: “We won’t know for sure until Thursday, but the new, tougher Tier 3 rules look likely.”
Greater Manchester was placed into Tier 3 on October 23 and remained in that tier when the national lockdown was introduced on November 5.
“If Greater Manchester were to remain in Tier 3 that could see fans continue to be shut out of the Etihad Stadium, Old Trafford and other league grounds across the region,” said the newspaper.
The announcement was welcomed Monday night by the Premier League which represents the clubs in the top level of English football.
In a statement, the league said: “Fans have been greatly missed at Premier League matches and therefore we welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today regarding the return of supporters for the first time since March, albeit at small numbers.
“Our ambition remains to work with the government to increase attendance to more substantial levels. Until this can be done, many fans will be unable to attend games and our clubs will continue to operate matches at a financial loss.”
The league said its priority continued to be the agreement of a roadmap, with the government’s culture department, DCMS and the official Sports Technology and Innovation Group, for pilot events that can help clubs quickly scale up to larger capacities in line with COVID-secure guidelines and beyond.
“Premier League clubs have a proven track record of achieving high-biosecurity standards and we believe we can play a significant role in the Government’s rapid turnaround testing initiative,” the statement added.