An increasing number of clubs are pushing for a shutdown of the Premier League until the new year in an attempt to deal with the growing coronavirus crisis, sources have told ESPN.
Premier League chiefs have been informed that with rising case numbers being fuelled by the omicron variant, there would be support for suspending games until the weekend of Jan. 8-9, when FA Cup third-round ties are due to take place.
It would mean postponing four rounds of league games, beginning this weekend and continuing through the weekend of Jan. 1-2. Under the proposal, Premier League games would restart on Jan. 15.
While recognising clubs are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, the Premier League said it was their intention to continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible, adding that the health and wellbeing of all concerned remains their priority.
Nine league fixtures have been called off this month due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Manchester United's trip to Brentford on Tuesday was postponed, as well as this Saturday's match with Brighton. Sources told ESPN that United had nine available players from the first team squad for the match with Brentford, and just seven available for the Brighton game.
Leicester City's match against Tottenham on Thursday was also been postponed, with the league later announcing added that four additional weekend matches -- Southampton vs. Brentford, Watford vs. Crystal Palace, West Ham United vs. Norwich City, and Everton vs. Leicester -- would also be postponed.
Watford's visit to Burnley on Wednesday was called off just hours before kickoff, and there is concern among some clubs that supporters making long trips over Christmas could be forced to turn back if decisions on games are left too late.
Liverpool's Thursday game against Newcastle United went ahead, but the Anfield club announced that Fabinho, Curtis Jones and Virgil van Dijk would miss the game after suspected positive tests. And Chelsea played Everton without Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi, all absent with COVID.
One issue surrounding a potential shutdown is the disruption to broadcast schedules and the financial penalties which could follow.
Brentford manager Thomas Frank, whose squad has been hit by a number of positive COVID-19 cases, has already called for games this weekend to be suspended.
"We think we should postpone the full round of Premier League games this weekend," he said on Thursday morning. "COVID cases are going through the roof at all Premier League clubs; everyone is dealing with it and having problems.
"To postpone this round and also the Carabao Cup round would give everyone a week at least, or four or five days to clean and do everything at the training ground so everything is clean and you break the chain."
Professor Stephen Reicher, an adviser for Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told Times Radio: "I do think that we do need a short-term circuit breaker, and I think that's the only way to ensure that the NHS [National Health Service] isn't overwhelmed -- but also to ensure that we can be in a position that at Christmas itself we can enjoy Christmas."
Information from ESPN's James Olley and Mark Ogden was included in this report.