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Chief medical officer warns of longer wait for return of grassroots football

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said ‘we want grassroots football back as soon as we safely can’.

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Children cannot play in football matches due to lockdown rules (PA)

Children cannot play in football matches due to lockdown rules (PA)

Children cannot play in football matches due to lockdown rules (PA)

The opportunity to play football while Britain is tackling the coronavirus pandemic is still a long way off, the chief medical officer has said.

Professor Chris Whitty said social distancing measures, which allow exercise outdoors with members of your own household or one other person who is two metres away but ban team sports, are about trying to achieve a “balance” while not triggering increases in transmission.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also told the Downing Street press briefing “we want grassroots football back as soon as we safely can”.

Exercising just with members of your own household or on your own is nothing like being able to play footballHealth Secretary Matt Hancock

They were answering questions from footballer-turned-pundit Robbie Savage who asked: “Why is it that in published guidelines by governing bodies that junior tennis players, golfers and athletes are able to receive one-on-one coaching sessions but young people who play the working class game of football are currently not allowed to?”

Mr Hancock said: “I absolutely get the impact of this virus on people’s lives and the mental health impact. For many people being able to play football is a huge release and really positive thing.

“Exercising just with members of your own household or on your own is nothing like being able to play football.

“I get it. I understand why it is a problem. Unfortunately these rules have to be in place amongst the population as a whole because we have to get a grip of this virus.

“The more people follow the rules, the faster we will get the number of new cases down and the more we are going to be able to release social distancing rules.”

The aim is to gradually allow small numbers of people to exercise together outdoors “but not take the risk that we actually start transmission again”, according to Prof Whitty.

He added: “Clearly to have a kind of league football game which is a contact sport and does involve a larger number, the risks are greater.”

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Screen grab of football pundit Robbie Savage, who asked a question during a media briefing in Downing Street (PA)

Screen grab of football pundit Robbie Savage, who asked a question during a media briefing in Downing Street (PA)

PA

Screen grab of football pundit Robbie Savage, who asked a question during a media briefing in Downing Street (PA)

He suggested the ongoing question must be “at what stage do we think the (transmission) rate is low enough” for “a group of 22 people and many of them coming into contact with one another linking their households” to be a safe thing to do.

He added: “Clearly to have a kind of league football game which is a contact sport and does involve a larger number, the risks are greater.”

Prof Whitty was asked if people will have to wait for a vaccine for grassroots football to start.

He said he expects the possibility of a vaccine being available before next year and on a widespread basis to be “very unlikely”.

But he said he hopes that football will be available “possibly with some degree of change in how it is played in advance of a vaccine”.

PA