• Reuters

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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard defended his players on Thursday amid a growing debate about teams celebrating goals with hugs and high-fives while the country is battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

England’s deputy chief medical officer has urged players to stop such physical contact and a senior politician suggested on Thursday that yellow cards should be brandished for hugging.

The Premier League was holding virtual meetings to reinforce the message that protocols must be respected, but Lampard echoed other top-flight managers in suggesting that was easier said than done.

“Football has and always will be a game of instinct. If we want to take the instinct out of the game then it is not that simple,” he told reporters ahead of Saturday’s game at Fulham.

“The players are good lads and they don’t want to do the wrong thing.

“In a perfect world we will all walk back to the halfway line and just start again. But it maybe will not quite be the case, and I do not think you can hold players hugely to account unless there is clear flouting of those rules.”

Julian Knight, the chair of the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, told Reuters earlier that hugging sent the wrong message at a time of national emergency with many people having to self-isolate.

“In the same way as referees issue yellow cards for players taking off their shirts (for unsporting behavior), they could do the same thing with this,” said Knight.

“Surely it’s unsportsmanlike to risk someone getting COVID-19, isn’t it?”

Premier League guidelines for on-field behavior state that “unnecessary contact, particularly between opposition teams, must be avoided. This includes handshakes, high fives and hugging”.

Media reports have highlighted examples at recent matches, with Manchester City in the spotlight after eight players held a group hug when Phil Foden scored in Wednesday’s 1-0 Premier League win over Brighton & Hove Albion.

Video also emerged of teams celebrating in dressing rooms following F.A. Cup third-round matches.

The Daily Telegraph quoted DCMS committee member Clive Efford as saying such celebrations were an “insult to the staff in the NHS (national health service)”.

City manager Pep Guardiola said it was “weird and uncomfortable” if nobody celebrated with the scorer.

“We are tested maybe five or six times in the last 10 days. Everyone is negative. We are outdoors where the virus is less aggressive. We will follow what the Premier League says but I don’t know if we will be able to do it,” he added.

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