LONDON • The final of the Euro 2020 football championship in London yesterday had the British government on tenterhooks amid fears of the highly transmissible Delta coronavirus variant spreading uncontrollably through Wembley stadium, despite limiting the number of seats.
The authorities are also concerned about the risk of large gatherings at fan zones and pubs to watch the country's first appearance in a major football final in more than half a century, with the English team taking on Italy.
"London still remains in a public health crisis," Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said on Saturday, urging people to remain socially distanced.
Health experts have expressed concerns about Euro 2020 events becoming super-spreaders throughout the tournament, especially in Britain and Russia, because of the Delta variant.
The authorities in Denmark, Finland and Scotland have already reported infections among fans after they attended Euro matches.
Nevertheless, the British government is confident that plans to lift a range of Covid-19 restrictions will go ahead on July 19, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said yesterday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had detailed proposals last week to eliminate a series of rules on mask wearing, social contact and working from home. He is expected to give the final go-ahead today.
Nevertheless, although face coverings will no longer be mandatory in any setting, there will be an expectation for people "to wear masks indoors, in crowded places, on public transport", Mr Zahawi told BBC TV.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid also ratcheted up the pressure, telling The Sunday Telegraph that people who did not wear masks in such settings were "just being irresponsible, they're not playing their role as a responsible citizen".
It was a change in tone from earlier, when Mr Johnson said guidance would only "suggest where you might choose" to wear a mask.
Meanwhile, a key ally of French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that France must "live with the virus" rather than count on a new lockdown to contain the spread of the Delta variant, ahead of a presidential address.
Junior Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said on Europe 1 radio yesterday: "We must live with the virus, and this means we don't close everything again and positions aren't as hard as they used to be, because we have the vaccine."
In his speech this evening, Mr Macron is expected to sound the alarm about the rapid spread of the Delta variant in France.
Elsewhere, after an "exponential" rise in cases, officials in the autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia said they had no choice but to reimpose restrictions.
In South Korea, once held up as a model for Covid-19 response, the government was set to tighten restrictions from today in and around the capital, Seoul, after new daily infections hit their highest level since the start of the pandemic.
The Asia-Pacific region has also seen a dramatic rise in cases, with Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam imposing fresh restrictions as a result.
The rapid spread of the Delta variant across Asia, Africa and Latin America is exposing crucial vaccine supply shortages for some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable populations. Those two factors are also threatening the global economic recovery from the pandemic, Group of 20 finance ministers warned on Saturday.
The less privileged parts of the world are expected to suffer most from the economic blow.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS