Crowds at stadiums and in pubs and bars in host cities of soccer’s European Championship are driving the current rise in coronavirus infections on the continent.
A 10-week decline in COVID-19 cases across the region has come to an end and a new wave of infections is inevitable if soccer fans and others drop their guard, according to the World Health Organisation.
Last week, the number of new cases rose by 10 per cent, driven by mixing of crowds in the championship’s host cities, travel and easing of social restrictions, WHO said.
“We need to look much beyond just the stadiums themselves,” WHO’s senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said.
“We need to look at how people get there. Are they travelling in large crowded convoys of buses?
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“And when they leave the stadiums, are they going into crowded bars and pubs to watch the matches?
“It is these small continuous events that are driving the spread of the virus.”
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer called a decision by European soccer’s governing body UEFA to allow big crowds at the event “utterly irresponsible”.
UEFA said in a statement that mitigation measures at host venues “are fully aligned with the regulations set out by the competent local public health authorities”.
The rise in new COVID-19 cases is happening as the more contagious Delta variant of the virus spreads rapidly across Europe.
Nearly 2000 people who live in Scotland have attended a Euro event while infectious with COVID-19, with many attending their group stage match against England in London on June 18, Scottish authorities said on Wednesday.
The rise in infections has raised concern that a third wave could spread across Europe in the autumn if people do not get vaccinated.
“The concern of an autumn surge is still there, but what we see now is that it might come even earlier,” Smallwood said.