Are the organizers of Euro football taking too many risks with the health situation? The increasing circulation of the more contagious Delta variant, as well as the infection of English players and Finnish fans, worries some European authorities.
In a regional daily interview Augsburg General on Tuesday, the German Home Secretary urged the British government and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to reduce the number of fans admitted to Wembley Stadium in London for the last matches of the Euro . “I find it irresponsible that tens of thousands of people congregate in tight spaces in countries classified at risk because of the highly contagious Delta variant,” as is currently the case in Britain, said Bavarian Horst Seehofer , also in charge of Sports.
Enlarged gauge at Wembley
The statement comes hours before the Germany-England clash in the round of 16 at Wembley, which is to be played in front of some 45,000 supporters, or around 50% of the stadium’s capacity. The latter must climb to 75% for the semi-finals and the final, or around 60,000 supporters.
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By comparison, the capacity of the Allianz Arena in Munich, which also hosts Euro matches in Germany, has been set at 20%, or around 14,000 spectators. For Horst Seehofer, the 20% rule should serve as a “criterion” for all other matches.
Britain, which is experiencing a resurgence in cases of coronavirus infections due to the Delta variant, is still limiting the movements of its nationals. In addition, the country has been classified by Germany as a risk zone. Germans or residents of Germany returning from Britain must observe a 14-day quarantine, including those who have been vaccinated and immunized. Chancellor Angela Merkel has more than once expressed her concern about the risks posed by the Euro for the spread of the Delta and deplored the lack of coordination at European level on the restrictions to be imposed on travelers coming from countries at risk.
“This is not an innocent decision”
On Monday, the Greek Margaritis Schinas, was also worried about the holding of the semi-finals and the final of the Euro at Wembley Stadium. Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for promoting the European way of life, he supervises and coordinates the activities of several commissioners, including the one responsible for sport.
“This is not a decision that we will have to take at the Commission. It belongs to UEFA. But I want to share my doubts about the possibility of hosting the semi-final and the final of the Euro at Wembley , in a packed stadium, while the United Kingdom limits the movements of its citizens to the EU, “he told the European Parliament in Brussels. “I think UEFA would do well to analyze this decision carefully. It is not an innocent decision. It will have to be made with full knowledge.”
Last week, Italian Council President Mario Draghi expressed the wish that the final “does not take place in a country where contagions are growing rapidly”. Asked by the German daily Passauer Neue Presse, Dr. Frank Ulrich Montgomery, leader of the World Medical Association (WMA), believes that opening the English borders for the Euro is “populism” and strongly advises against going there, because of the risk of contamination with the Delta variant of Covid-19.
Finnish fan cluster
The concern is all the more acute as the Covid-19 circulates in the tournament, among the players as among the supporters. On the player side, the English Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell had to isolate themselves due to contact with the Scottish Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for Covid on June 21. On Monday, the participation of the two English players in the round of 16 against Germany was still uncertain, according to England coach Gareth Southgate. The English federation, in consultation with British health authorities, asked them on June 21, despite two negative tests, to isolate themselves and train separately for a week.
On the supporters’ side, nearly 300 Finns returning from Saint Petersburg have tested positive for Covid-19, local health authorities announced on Monday. The health authority in charge of the epidemic, THL, renewed its call for testing all Finns who returned to the country after the defeat against Belgium last Monday and recommended that supporters self-quarantine for at least 72 hours until negative return from a screening test.
The country’s authorities had already expressed their concern last Thursday after the detection of nearly a hundred cases among supporters returning from Russia. Local authorities near the border between Finland and Russia then identified 86 cases during tests carried out at customs posts. And because of the congestion and traffic jams caused on Tuesday by the return of some 3,000 supporters, Finnish customs officers had to let in nearly 800 people without testing them, especially in buses, according to local media.
Quarter-final maintained in St. Petersburg
Euro organizers, however, confirmed on Monday that the quarter-final between Switzerland and Spain would take place in St. Petersburg on Friday. “The quarter-final will take place as planned,” the press service of the Euro Organizing Committee in St. Petersburg told AFP. A UEFA spokesperson told AFP that the Russian health situation “does not change anything for the teams”, and that it was “not planned to change the venue of the match” .
Behind Moscow, St. Petersburg is the city in Russia most affected by the new wave of the epidemic caused by the Delta variant. The former Russian imperial city recorded 110 deaths in 24 hours, according to statistics released on Monday, surpassing the city’s death record for the second time in three days. The authorities have said since the start of the Euro that all health measures have been taken to ensure the health safety of spectators and teams. But the measures of distancing and the wearing of the mask are very uncertain in the city, and this while the vaccination slips there for long months. In this very difficult epidemic context, images showing thousands of people in the street for a traditional festive gathering marking the end of the school year have gone viral on social networks.
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On June 22, already, the World Health Organization (WHO) was concerned about the relaxation of restrictions in some of the host countries of Euro-2020, after increases in coronavirus cases near several stages . Danish supporters, in particular, had been infected with the Delta variant of the coronavirus after Denmark-Belgium and Denmark-Russia.