With vaccination progressing rapidly across the continent and people eagerly awaiting the holiday season, it is tempting to see large crowds at European Championship matches and gathering in cities as a sign of a life returning to normal.
However, there are particular concerns about the upcoming matches in London and St. Petersburg, two cities particularly affected by the Delta variant.
“If we want to spread the Delta variant in Europe, this is the way to do it,” epidemiologist Antoine Flahault told AFP.
Friday’s quarter-finals between Spain and Switzerland will take place in St. Petersburg, despite Russia facing a wave of virus cases and daily death logs.
Both the semi-finals and the final will be played in London, with over 60,000 fans allowed to attend Wembley matches.
The Delta variant has also been behind a steep upward curve in cases in the UK, but that hasn’t stopped authorities from easing restrictions for England’s round of 16 win over Germany on Tuesday.
Nearly 42,000 fans were inside the 90,000-seat Wembley to watch that match and the images of unmasked England fans wildly celebrating the win caused some consternation.
In England there is growing enthusiasm that the national team can continue to win the European title in front of their fans.
However, Flahault is of the opinion that the matches scheduled for Wembley should be postponed.
“It wouldn’t have been very difficult to move these matches to cities where the risk is not that great,” said Flahault, director of the University of Geneva’s Institute of Global Health.
UEFA, however, has no plans to move any matches.
The governing body of European football told AFP that “all remaining matches will go on according to the match schedule as planned”.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization warned that new coronavirus cases across Europe have increased 10% in the past week after a previously long and steady decline.
And WHO has admitted that it fears that audiences at Euro 2020 – which are being played for the first time in 11 countries – could be a contributing factor, saying host cities need to do more to monitor spectator movement beyond stages.
“How do people get there? Do they travel in large crowded convoys of buses? Are they taking individual measures when they do?” Asked Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at the WHO European office.
“What we do know is that in a context of increasing broadcast, large mass gatherings can act as amplifiers in terms of broadcast,” he added.
Most of the tournament’s matches, postponed from last year due to the pandemic, were played in front of severely limited attendances.
However, in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, there were no restrictions on capacity, meaning that a tournament of nearly 56,000 spectators witnessed the host nation’s match against France.
Danish authorities reported that three fans were infected with the Delta variant during their team’s match against Belgium in Copenhagen and invited another 4,000 fans to take the test.
The Finnish health authority reported nearly 100 cases among fans who had crossed the border to watch their team’s game against Russia in St. Petersburg.
Public Health Scotland said nearly 2,000 cases have been linked to people watching matches, two thirds of whom traveled to London for Scotland’s match against England.
“It cannot be completely ruled out that events and gatherings may ultimately lead to some local increase in the number of cases, but this would not only apply to football matches, but also to any type of situation that is now allowed in the context of easing measures. decided by the competent local authorities, “said Dr Daniel Koch, UEFA’s medical advisor for the competition.
“The intense vaccination campaigns that have been launched across Europe and border controls will help ensure that no new big wave starts in Europe and put pressure on their respective health systems, as has been the case during previous infection waves.”
Flahault, meanwhile, believes fans shouldn’t consider going to matches in London or St. Petersburg unless they are vaccinated, and has encouraged those who do to avoid crowds in bars and restaurants or crowding on vehicles. public.