A late equalizer saw Scottish champion Celtic draw 1-1 against Hibernian after one of its players tested positive for Covid-19 and 15 other members of playing and coaching staff were required to self-isolate.
It meant Celtic was without manager Neil Lennon, assistant John Kennedy and 13 first-team players for Monday’s game following defender Christopher Jullien’s positive test days after the club returned from a winter training camp in Dubai.
David Turnbull’s well-hit free-kick looked to have secured victory for the depleted side, but Kevin Nisbet secured a draw for Hibernian with an injury-time strike.
Celtic is now 21 points adrift of rival Rangers, albeit with three games in hand, and looks unlikely to win a 10th consecutive Scottish Premiership title.
“There’s a sense of pride among the younger players but there’s also a massive sense of frustration that we couldn’t see it out,” coach Gavin Strachan told Celtic TV.
“That’s drilled into these players at this club – that it’s about winning and we always want good performances. We fell short at the last hurdle tonight.”
The draw and Jullien’s positive test came after criticism of the club’s trip to Dubai earlier this month with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying during her coronavirus briefing on Monday that she was “disappointed and frustrated” with the situation.
“As I have said before, I do have doubts, based on how the club itself described it, doubts about whether Celtic’s trip to Dubai was really essential,” Sturgeon said, adding that “everyone, including football, should be erring on the side of caution.”
Hibernian boss Jack Ross told Sky Sports that his players’ families had expressed concerns ahead of the match against Celtic. The club had asked for an additional round of “on the day” testing of Celtic players to take place, but the request was refused.
In a statement on Monday, Celtic said 15 team members were required to self-isolate having been deemed “close contacts” with Jullien, while also defending the trip to Dubai.
“The contacts were identified during the period from Wednesday last week, primarily around flight and team coach travel, during which time Celtic applied the same rigorous protocols used for pre-season training camps, UEFA match travel and for all domestic match arrangements in Scotland,” said the statement.
“These protocols have served us well in the past, as the club has not had one positive case in our own ‘bubble’ until now.
“As we have already stated, Celtic’s decision to travel to Dubai for a training camp was for performance reasons … The reality is that a case could well have occurred had the team remained in Scotland, as other cases have done in Scottish football and across UK sport in the past week.”
On January 4, Celtic said the training camp was approved by all relevant football and government authorities and that it had been “fully risk assessed.”
Strachan also defended the trip after Monday’s game, telling Sky Sports: “We’ve followed protocols as to what have been agreed and what have worked in the past all season. That’s our stance on it.”
On Tuesday, Dubai was removed from the UK’s travel exempt list, meaning those arriving from Dubai must self-isolate for 10 days.
“Since January 3, more than 50 people have tested positive for Covid in Scotland after returning from Dubai,” Sturgeon said during her briefing.
“Now, let me be clear. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they got Covid when they were in Dubai, but the volume of positive cases strongly suggests that there may well be significant risks attached to travel to and from Dubai right now.”