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Premier League clubs will now have to have four positive COVID-19 cases within their squad if they are to secure a virus-related postponement of a match, the league has announced.

The move comes after an outcry in recent weeks as clubs and supporters grew to believe that opponents were manipulating the protocols as they stood. At the time the Premier League was granting postponement requests to any club that could prove they did not have 13 senior outfield players and a goalkeeper available to them.

That led to games being called off due to injuries and subsequently players being unavailable due to their involvement in the Africa Cup of Nations. There was widespread outcry when Arsenal were allowed to postpone their match against Tottenham because they did not meet the league's criteria; only one of their absentees (Martin Odegaard) was due to a COVID-19 case. 

With space being needed on the fixture list for 19 as yet unscheduled fixtures, clubs were keen to tighten requirements for postponement rather than risk a chaotic end to the season, with events surrounding the north London derby proving to be the catalyst for agreement.

The new regulations will take effect in time for the match between Burnley and Watford on February 5, a match that was twice postponed as omicron hit the United Kingdom during the winter months.

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The Premier League said in a statement: "Following a club meeting today, the Premier League's COVID-19 match postponement guidance has been updated to include a COVID-19 impact threshold. From now on, if a club applies to postpone a match on the grounds of insufficient players due to COVID-19, they must have a minimum of four positive cases within their squad.

"Throughout the pandemic, the Premier League has adapted its guidance in response to the wider public health situation. The guidance was last updated in December in response to the emergence of the omicron variant. The League's postponement rules and guidance are designed to protect the wellbeing of players and staff, while maintaining the sporting integrity of the competition and the quality of squads playing League matches."

The statement also confirmed that the league intended to bring an end to the "emergency measures" they have been operating under since mid-December. These additional steps -- which include mask wearing, more frequent testing and limiting treatment time -- will be reviewed weekly with the intention that they will expire by the end of February at the latest.

On Monday the Premier League announced that for the week ending January 23 there had been 16 positive cases from 6,221 tests. That marked the fourth week in a row in which COVID-19 numbers had declined across the 20 clubs as a whole.