Allowing 65,000 fans to gather at Wembley on Sunday in the Euro Cup final raises questions as England is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the Delta variant. But it is the celebrations of the ‘third half’, outside the stadium, what worries the most.
On Wednesday, the victory of the English in the semifinal against the Danes (2-1 in extra time) led to scenes of jubilation in the London Stadium, as if the health crisis did not exist.
The same images of effusiveness among fans, often without masks, could be reproduced on Sunday against Italy (19:00 GMT), in the “country of football”, which awaits a first big title since 1966.
Prior to the tournament, UEFA required the 12 initially designated host cities to have an audience in proportions to be determined locally. Under these conditions, Bilbao and Dublin fell out of the tournament, Seville was invited to the party, and London and Saint Petersburg recovered more matches.
In England, the capacity was set at 25% of the capacity of the stadium in the first round, which represents about 22,500 spectators, then 50% for the round of 16, before going to 76% for the semifinals and the final.
“UEFA did not particularly push to increase the capacity of Wembley,” revealed Ronan Evain, coordinator of the Football Supporters Europe (FSE) network. “On the other hand, they are not against it. This brings extra income from ticket sales, allows more invitations to be distributed, so they are interested. But the responsibility for the final decision rests with the British government. ”
The post-game, “source of infections”?
On Wednesday, British Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng was “confident that there will not be a major explosion” of COVID-19 cases linked to the Eurocup. “But I cannot guarantee it at the moment. You have to see what will happen ”, he added.
The UK vaccination rate is the highest in Europe, and hospitalization figures for severe cases and deaths remain well below previous waves, but the number of infections continues to grow.
In this context, “the problem is not so much the end,” reveals epidemiologist Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva, to the extent that ” fairly dense demonstrations ” such as carnivals or festivals “did not object of outbreaks identified later, “he told the AFP agency.
“But above all, you shouldn’t think that those games are simple games. People come in crowded transports, with little security, they go to bars, they celebrate, they have happy interactions, or on the contrary, they drown their tears. There will be a third time that will probably be a source of infections ”, he warns.
A report released Thursday by the Imperial College of London focused on the increase in COVID cases stronger in London than in the rest of England, and much more among men than women, a trend that could be linked to sports news.
“If I were to speculate on the impact of the Euro … I would first think about the increased likelihood of people regrouping indoors more frequently,” said Professor Steven Riley, author of the report.
“My first thought would not be for the stadiums or their surroundings, it is for the general attitude of the population, ” he said.
With the quarantine maintained for visitors arriving on the island, the British government has made it difficult for fans to arrive, to the point of making their presence at Wembley almost impossible.
“If there are infected fans we will know quite quickly,” says Professor Flahault, evoking an average of “12 days for 80% of infections”. “Above all, we must remember that many infected people are not needed for there to be super contagious,” he continues
“It is possible, even probable, that regions very little affected by the pandemic in the United Kingdom are seeded with fans from London, which will increase the pressure on the health system.”
The Eurocup could then experience an extension of a bitter taste for all.