GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — Celtic was without 14 players for its Scottish Premiership match against Hibernian on Monday after defender Christopher Jullien tested positive for the coronavirus upon the squad’s return from a training camp in Dubai.
Thirteen of Jullien’s teammates were deemed as close contacts and were also forced to isolate along with Celtic manager Neil Lennon and his assistant, John Kennedy, who came into contact with Jullien, too.
Second-placed Celtic pledged to fulfill its game against Hibs despite the spate of absentees and was held to 1-1 after conceding an equalizer in the first minute of stoppage time.
It left the defending champions — seeking an unprecedented 10th straight title — 21 points behind fierce rival Rangers in the standings, with Celtic having three games in hand.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon previously questioned the purpose of Celtic's trip to Dubai and whether social-distancing measures were followed after photos were published from the training base.
On Monday, Sturgeon said the latest developments underlined why everyone in Scotland, including those in soccer, “should be erring on the side of caution.”
“I hope Celtic themselves will reflect seriously on all of this," she said.
The Scottish government announced on Jan. 3 that travelers from Dubai arriving from early on Jan. 4 must quarantine. Celtic’s squad arrived back four days later.
“As we have already stated, Celtic’s decision to travel to Dubai for a training camp was for performance reasons,” the club said. “Whilst we were in Dubai, the announcements made on Jan. 4 significantly changed the COVID landscape.
“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.”
Minutes before Celtic’s announcement, the Scottish Football Association said the professional game below the top two divisions was being suspended for three weeks because of an escalation in coronavirus cases in the country.
The suspension applies to the men’s leagues below the Championship, the leading two women’s leagues, and the men’s Scottish Cup.
The Scottish FA said the top-flight Premiership is exempt from the suspension “provided it continues to adhere to the stringent testing protocols.”
A national lockdown is in place in Scotland until the end of January at least.