Euro 2020 crowds ‘a recipe for disaster’

Decision to allow large crowds in stadiums described as “utterly irresponsible”

Allowing 60,000 fans into Wembley and other Euro 2020 venues is "a recipe for disaster" and "irresponsible", MEPs and the German interior minister have said, as the World Health Organisation warned tournament crowds would fuel an increase in Covid-19 cases across Europe.

"We know that in a context of increasing transmission, large mass gatherings can act as amplifiers," Katy Smallwood, WHO's senior emergency officer, said on Thursday, warning it was "really important" authorities properly weigh the public health risk.

Hundreds of cases have been detected among spectators, including nearly 1,300 Scotland fans who travelled to London for their team's match against England on June 18th, 300 Finns returning from St Petersburg, and multiple infections in Copenhagen.

Russia, where St Petersburg is due to host the Spain v Switzerland quarter-final on Friday, posted record virus deaths for the third day running on Thursday, while infections in the UK, which is hosting the semi-finals and final, continue to surge.

Smallwood said it was not just crowds in the stadiums that were causing concern but the mixing that took place around matches. “We need to look at how people get there: Are they travelling in large, crowded convoys of buses?” she said.

“Are they taking individual measures when they are doing that? And what’s happening after the games? Are they going into crowded bars and pubs? . . . If mixing happens among people who are not fully vaccinated, there will be cases.”

Asked whether the Euros, which are taking place in 11 European countries, were acting as a "super-spreader" event, Hans Kluge, director of the WHO's European region, said: "I hope not . . . but this can't be excluded."

Germany's interior minister, Horst Seehofer, called the decision by Uefa and local authorities to allow large crowds in stadiums "utterly irresponsible". Crowds have varied widely from 10-15,000 in some venues to 60,000 in others such as Budapest.

Such large numbers - also planned for the three final-stage matches at London’s Wembley stadium next week - would “inevitably help” spread the virus, Seehofer said, noting that Munich had allowed in only 14,500 fans who had to wear masks and present a negative test result.

The European parliament’s committee on public health described the decision to allow 60,000 fans into Wembley in particular as “a recipe for disaster” because of the surge in coronavirus cases in the UK driven by the Delta variant.

The committee said allowing the matches on July 6th, 7th and 11th to be played in front of crowds of 75 per cent of the stadium’s 90,000 capacity was “a health hazard and a clear unnecessary risk”.

“Despite the worrisome situation, the UK government decided to increase crowd capacity at Wembley. We consider this decision a recipe for disaster,” the MEPs wrote, urging EU leaders to press both Uefa and the British government to reconsider or “at least reassess health safety measures and the crowd capacity decision”.

In a statement, Uefa said it was “fully aligned” with local health authorities’ guidelines at every venue, adding that final decisions on the number of fans attending matches and entry requirements to host countries and host stadiums were the responsibility of local authorities.

Kluge warned there would be "a new wave in the European region unless we remain disciplined", but Uefa's Euro 2020 medical adviser, Daniel Koch, insisted vaccinations and border controls should prevent a major new wave of the pandemic.

“It cannot be totally excluded that events and gatherings could ultimately lead to some local increase in the number of cases,” Koch said. “But this would not only apply to football matches but also to any kind of situations that are now allowed as part of the easing measures decided by the competent local authorities.” - Guardian