The EFL has said all 72 clubs will now undergo mandatory coronavirus tests twice a week amid a surge in cases in the lower leagues – and they will be funded by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).
Championship, League One and League Two clubs have not been tested regularly so far this season.
A new strain of Covid-19 that’s more easily spreadable has caused a spike in cases across the country, causing England to enter a third national lockdown.
Fxture postponements have been rife – particularly in League One – due to players testing positive and clubs being unable to fulfil games.
Pompey called off matches against Swindon and Bristol Rovers during the festive period.
However, the PFA will now cover the costs for all teams to be tested bi-weekly until the end of the season.
EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said: ‘We have repeatedly maintained that adhering to the stringent protocols implemented during the re-start last summer and then across all Clubs since the beginning of the season was going to be our best chance of beating the virus and to keep playing matches.
‘Only last week we took the decision to enhance these to further minimise risk, though with the new strain of the virus taking hold across parts of the country, it is now clear from our discussions with our medical advisors and public health officials that additional testing, operated in conjunction with strict protocols, may prove beneficial in the immediate short-term.
‘I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the PFA for their support in helping us to finalise a position on testing across all three divisions on a twice-weekly basis. We will continue to review the situation and make any adjustments or changes as circumstances dictate with the health and well-being of our players and Club staff the overwhelming priority.’
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said: ‘In the light of the current increase in COVID-19 cases and the resulting further tightening of government regulations, the PFA and the EFL have agreed enhanced measures to help protect players, staff and their families.
‘Football has provided temporary relief for many fans during the lockdown. PFA members, alongside millions of people, have worked hard and played a positive role throughout the pandemic.
‘We believe that this comprehensive and expansive approach to testing will help support clubs and be an important factor in maintaining fixtures and ensuring that football can continue during this challenging period.’