Eye-watering tests and face masks: Stage One of Project Restart

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PREMIER LEAGUE teams embarked on phase one of Project Restart today - training in small groups with social distancing and no tackling.

This followed a unanimous vote yesterday in favour of the new training protocols formulated by the Premier League, as well as an extensive programme of testing on Sunday and Monday.

Championship teams are a week behind the top tier, meaning they are due to conduct their coronavirus testing on Thursday and Friday this week and then take part in small group training next Monday

We got the lowdown on the new regime from QPR's Head of Medical Services Dr Imtiaz Ahmad, as well as training updates from Crystal Palace.

Testing

All first-team players and key staff are undergoing coronavirus testing twice a week, with the first Premier League tests having taken place on Sunday and Monday.

The results go into a central database and are published every week - although the identity of the players is not revealed by the Premier League. After the first batch of tests, which involved 748 players from 19 clubs (Norwich were due to do theirs today), there were six positives. These players and staff will now have to self-isolate for seven days.

Burnley confirmed that one of the positives was their assistant manager, Ian Woan, who is "asymptomatic and safe and well at home." Three of the others - a player and two members of staff - were at Watford.

Both the Premier League and EFL are using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The Premier League is using Hong Kong-based Prenetics to oversee their programme, while the EFL has opted for Leicestershire company Nationwide Pathology.

Clubs have the option of either a player administering the tests themselves by self-swabbing, getting a member of staff to do it, or using a nurse from the testing company to do so, which is what QPR have chosen.

The video above shows how to self-swab and was sent to club players and staff ahead of the process. Dr Jonathan Lambourne from Barts Hospital explains: “The idea is to get the cotton tip at the end on both tonsils and then right to the back of your nose. First on one side and then the other. If it’s a properly taken swab, you should gag.

“The swab goes into the bottom of the nose and is pushed back as far as it can go until you hit resistance and is then turned around and removed. And then the same thing with the other nostril. It’s normal for you to tear up at this point.

“With the swab, don’t touch the end but lower it into the sample container. There’s a black line on the swab that indicates where it should break, so bend the swab again the side of the container and it should snap off. Then replace the lid, turning it tightly.”

Dr Ahmad told TGG: “This is a test for the antigen - ie whether you have coronavirus at the time of testing or not - and is being used in the Premier League, EFL and the NHS.

“It is not the antibody test, which is a blood test, because that isn’t in widespread use yet. Patients can do the test themselves with a self swab, or someone can do it for them.”

The Project Restart working group worked closely with club doctors, led by the Premier League and Championship Doctors Groups, to formulate its training protocols.

Dr Ahmad told TGG: “I like the way the protocol has been done with shared responsibility between the medics and the clubs, to make sure that things are done in the right way.

"There's been good communication from the EPL and (Medical Advisor) Richard Higgins has been open and approachable."

Training 

Crystal Palace players returned to their Copers Cope Road training ground today after a 10-week absence. QPR are due to start small-sided training on Monday following testing on Friday.

Palace explained: “Across the afternoon, in three allotted time slots, 25 players arrived in full training kit at Kent Cricket’s Beckenham site (adjacent to the club’s base).

The club has acquired the use of Kent Cricket’s facility next door as their car park is "considerably larger", meaning players and staff can enter and exit the club’s training pitches easily.

Palace described it as a "specially-designed flow system, that would not have been possible at the Eagles’ usual training base.”

The players arrived in designated parking areas that are more than two metres apart and had their temperature taken in their cars. The second part of the monitoring process was filling in a questionnaire, for wellness and readiness to train, on an app. TGG wrote an article about these questionnaires here.

After being given the all-clear, players were allowed to leave their vehicles. Pre-activation took place outside, as did supplementary gym work after the pitch sessions.

Outfield players trained in groups of four plus one goalkeeper, “maintaining social distancing at all times”. Training involved “building up pitch-conditioning and basic ball work”.

Phase two of Project Restart, which is yet to be voted through by the Premier League clubs, will involve larger group sessions and contact.

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