International 01/07/2021

WHO blames Euros for the rise in covid infections in Europe

Crowds in the stadiums, together with the spread of the Delta variant, cause spike in cases after weeks of low infection

Antònia Crespí
2 min
Fans following the match between Ukraine and Sweden in Glasgow on Tuesday

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the European Football Championship as the main focus of new covid infections in Europe, which have soared by 10% after many weeks of decline. The rapid spread of the delta variant, coupled with crowds at football stadiums and in bars in cities hosting matches, is facilitating the spread of the virus, according to the WHO. The agency's European chief, Hans Kluge, has stressed the need for "organisers and local authorities to drive initiatives to reduce transmission". And it is not just the situation in stadiums - which can have the effect of "super-spreaders" - but Kluge has also pointed to football-related events as one of the other hotspots that need to be monitored.

In the UK nearly 2,000 Scotland fans tested positive after attending Euros events, local health authorities said on Wednesday. Of the 1,991 positives, about 1,249 had been to London while still contagious and 397 had been to Wembley, according to Reuters. The positives include both people who had been to Hampden or Wembley stadiums and those who had gone to Glasgow's fan zone, as well as those who had watched the match from a pub or from home. The rise in cases of covid-19 among supporters has caused concern in Scotland and calls into question the extent to which the measures for the Euros are safe.

Scotland is not the only country where alarms have been raised about the spread of the virus among football fans. In Finland at least 300 people who travelled to Russia to cheer their side have also tested positive, which according to the head of the Finnish Health Institute, Mika Salminen, has caused a rise in the rate of daily infections in the country. In total, they estimate that between 4,500 and 6,000 people went to St. Petersburg to follow the competition. Meanwhile, Russia has already tightened restrictions against coronavirus due to the spike in deaths and infections on Wednesday - which they attribute to the Delta variant - and just before the quarter-final match of the Euros to be played this Friday in St. Petersburg.

In Germany, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, has raised his voice against UEFA, whom he has described as "irresponsible" for allowing mass gatherings in stadiums in the midst of the spread of the Delta variant. He explained that matches with some 60,000 spectators, such as those planned for the semi-final and final at Wembley Stadium, will inevitably increase the spread of coronavirus among the population. In the case of matches that have been played in Munich, the minister stressed that only 14,500 people were allowed into the stadiums, with mandatory use of masks, physical distancing and proof of negative test results.

In a statement to Reuters, UEFA assured that the measures indicated by the health authorities of each country had been "fully complied with": "The final decision on the number of people attending matches in any host country and stadium is under the responsibility of the local authorities, and UEFA strictly follows their measures".