Rousing celebrations spark fears of fresh virus outbreak

Many English fans, like these overjoyed Blues supporters, were mask-less and failed to observe social distancing rules while in Porto.
Many English fans, like these overjoyed Blues supporters, were mask-less and failed to observe social distancing rules while in Porto.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PORTO • Ecstatic Chelsea fans erupted with joy after their team clinched the Champions League title in Porto's Dragao stadium on Saturday, in a match that brought happiness to the winners but angered locals worried it could fuel a spike in Covid-19 cases.

"It's the best day of my life," said a thrilled Chelsea fan leaving the stadium soon after the London side lifted their second European Cup, nine years after their first. "I don't believe it."

Some 16,500 fans were allowed into the stadium but many more travelled to Porto to support their teams from the sidelines.

Portugal is on the UK government's "green" list, so Britons can visit the country without quarantining on their return.

In the few days leading up to the match, big crowds of English fans, who were largely mask-less and did not socially distance, took over Porto's riverside area to drink and chant team slogans.

Fans had to present a negative Covid-19 test on arrival at the city's airport. With the stadium able to accept only a restricted crowd, fan zones - each having a capacity of 6,000 - were set up in the city centre for both Chelsea and Manchester City fans.

Buses were arranged to transport them to the venue and fans were given a yellow bracelet to show they had tested negative for Covid-19. The English supporters did not appear to be concerned with any potential flare-up, with one saying: "Anyone here had a test done so this is probably the safest place to be in the world."

At the final whistle, Chelsea fans drank, jumped, hugged and waved flags to celebrate the victory as music blasted through the speakers, while others cried tears of joy.

"There is no word in this planet to describe how every Chelsea soul out there feels," said one fan.

But many locals did not share the same carefree sentiment, fearing the final could lead to an increase in infections after the authorities decided to relax rules for the game.

In Portugal, masks are still mandatory outside if people cannot observe social distancing.

Ines Andrade, a 19-year-old student from Porto, was visibly upset as she watched the scenes from nearby, saying it was "revolting" to see how fans were behaving, just four months after Portugal endured its toughest battle against Covid-19.

The situation has stabilised over the past month, with the authorities reporting 609 cases on Saturday, although experts have claimed that is because the virus is "probably already endemic" within Portuguese society.

"For us, Portuguese, it is very disturbing to see these people come here and ruin everything we have tried to achieve over the last months and year," she said.

Local police also told Reuters two English fans were detained after Saturday's match for attacking officers and there were also minor scuffles on Friday evening.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2021, with the headline 'Rousing celebrations spark fears of fresh virus outbreak'. Subscribe