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English Premier League football players told to stop hugging or risk matches being stopped

British sports minister Nigel Huddleston has called on players from the Premier League to stop their goalscoring hugging celebrations or face punishment as COVID cases soar.

The British government is increasingly alarmed by the sight of soccer players hugging and kissing in celebrations, risking coronavirus infections and the sport's ability to be allowed to continue during the latest lockdown.

Key points:
  • UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said footballers were "no exception" to COVID rules
  • The EPL said clubs will be punished if rules are continually flouted
  • Manchester United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said football was "an emotional game"

Outbreaks at Premier League teams, forcing the postponement of matches, have heightened concerns about the avoidable — and very visible — close contact between players.

"Everyone in the country has had to change the way they interact with people and ways of working," Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston tweeted Wednesday.

"Footballers are no exception. COVID secure guidelines exist for football. Footballers must follow them and football authorities enforce them — strictly."

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Premier League has warned clubs that punishments will be handed out for flouting the rules.

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Everton players, wearing blue shirts with white chevrons on the sleeves and white numbers, hugEverton players, wearing blue shirts with white chevrons on the sleeves and white numbers, hug
Players have been told to avoid the very visible close contact between players that follows a goal.(AP: Rui Vieira, Pool)
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The Football Association also expressed alarm at a lack of social distancing during last weekend's FA Cup matches.

Huddleston linked on Twitter to a news story about the league's letter to clubs which specified players should avoid handshakes, high-fives and hugs and that they were "fortunate to be able to continue to play".

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Those warnings have proven far easier to lay out than enforce, with the majority of goals still being celebrated with group hugs.

"It's an emotional game," Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after his side's 1-0 win over Burnley.

"We have to understand the players when they celebrate but also understand the concern nowadays for a bit of less emotions and less hugging."

The league configured protocols for the return of games in March in conjunction with Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, who on Wednesday also urged players to avoid hugging and kissing.

"We are in a very dangerous place now," Van-Tam said on LBC radio while discussing the issue.

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"Every close human contact that is avoidable should be avoided because one in three of us will get the infection and have no symptoms at all."

A more contagious variant of COVID-19 is sweeping across Britain where there have been more than 83,000 deaths from the disease.

Britain reported 1,243 deaths on Tuesday, its second-highest number of daily fatalities since the start of the pandemic last year.

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