COPENHAGEN • The Euro 2020 football tournament was yesterday blamed for a surge in coronavirus cases as fans have flocked to stadiums, bars and spectator zones across Europe to watch the action while the pandemic still raged.
Germany's interior minister called European football's governing body Uefa "utterly irresponsible" for allowing big crowds at the tournament.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the mixing of crowds in Euro 2020 host cities, travel and easing of social restrictions had driven up the number of new cases by 10 per cent.
A 10-week decline in new infections across Europe had come to an end and a new wave is inevitable if football fans and others drop their guard, WHO senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said in Copenhagen.
"We need to look beyond just the stadiums themselves," she told reporters. "We need to look at how people get there, are they travelling in large crowded convoys of buses? And when they leave the stadiums, are they going into crowded bars and pubs to watch the matches?"
These events were driving the spread of the virus, she said.
With Covid-19 restrictions varying from nation to nation, crowd sizes have ranged from completely full, such as 60,000 in Budapest, to 25 per cent to 45 per cent capacity in other venues, where there have often been around 10,000 to 15,000 spectators.
Uefa said yesterday it was fully aligned with the local health authorities' guidelines at every venue.
"The final decisions with regard to the number of fans attending matches and the entry requirements to any of the host countries and host stadiums fall under the responsibility of the competent local authorities, and Uefa strictly follows any such measures," it said in a statement.
But German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters at a news conference: "I cannot explain why Uefa is not being sensible...I suspect it is due to commercialism."
Concern over the potential health knock-on has been rising.
397 Number of people who live in Scotland identified as having gone to Wembley Stadium to watch the Euro 2020 match between England and Scotland while infectious.
Scotland's health authority said 1,991 people had been identified as attending a Euro 2020 event while infectious, of whom 1,294 had travelled to London and 397 had gone to Wembley where England played Scotland on June 18.
Finland said more than 300 nationals were infected while supporting their team against Belgium in Saint Petersburg on June 21.
The city, one of Russia's Covid-19 hot spots, is due to stage the Switzerland-Spain quarter-final today, with 50 per cent capacity allowed in a stadium that would usually hold 68,000 people.
More than 1,000 Swiss are expected to travel for the game.
Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset warned travellers that it would be foolhardy to go without first having been vaccinated with a Covid-19 shot.
Italy yesterday warned fans from England not to try to use loopholes in Covid-19 travel restrictions to sneak into the Stadio Olimpico in Rome to watch their team play Ukraine tomorrow, even if they have a ticket. Some 16,000 fans are expected for the match.
Uefa's Euro 2020 medical adviser Daniel Koch said vaccinations and border controls would prevent a big new wave.
Events and gatherings could lead to some increase in the number of cases, he said, but this would apply to all sorts of other situations, not just football.