Euro 2020 games at Wembley could fuel large spikes in England’s Covid cases, it was warned today as tens of thousands descend on the stadium for tonight’s semi-final game against Denmark.
Ministers warned there are ‘no guarantees’ that huge crowds will not spark outbreaks amid claims of Cabinet anxiety over the risks.
More than 60,000 fans will be able to attend England’s semi-final match against Denmark tonight, as well as the final on Sunday, with Wembley allowed to have 75 per cent capacity.
The social distancing rules tell fans to stay in their seat during games, maintain their distance from others where possible and wear face masks when not seated. They also encourage those at games to avoid hugging and high fives during games but thousands ignored the guidelines during Italy’s semi-final victory against Spain last night.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted the potential problems can be ‘managed’ ahead of the crucial match.
But some ministers are understood to be concerned that matches at the London stadium could be fuelling sharp rises in cases.
One Cabinet source told MailOnline that it was ‘fair’ to say nerves are jangling. ‘As we continue the greater likelihood these things are going to happen,’ they said.
Senior Government figures are concerned about fans breaching social distancing when travelling to matches on public transport
And a spokesperson for the World Health Organization warned mass events, including football matches, could be ‘risky’ in terms of coronavirus spread.
Experts have already blamed the recent surge in Covid cases in Scotland on young men meeting up to watch Euro 2020 games.
Despite the worries, there are rumours that Health Secretary Sajid Javid is planning to attend the game this evening.
Ministers today warned there are ‘no guarantees’ that huge Wembley crowds will not spark outbreaks amid claims of Cabinet anxiety over the risks
Italy fans pack together in the stands at Wembley yesterday as 60,000 were allowed in for the semi final game against Spain
Fans began the Euro 2020 semi-final game between Italy and Spain in their seats and social distanced, as encouraged by the UEFA Code of Conduct. Crowds were more scarce on the sidelines than behind goalmouths
Experts yesterday blamed some of the surge in cases in Scotland on fans packing together to watch Euro 2020 games and travelling down to London for the game against England. Graph shows: Scotland’s daily new Covid cases (yellow) and seven-day rolling average (orange)
Graph shows: London’s rising seven day case rate per 100,000 people from mid-April to early July
UEFA’s guidance tells fans to wear face masks, maintain their distance from others where possible and stay in their seat during games. Pictured: The Italy team celebrate in front of their fans after winning the peanlty shoot out of the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between Italy and Spain at Wembley last night
Italy players and staff celebrate in front of fans at Wembley Stadium after winning the penalty shootout against Spain in the Euro 2020 semifinal last night
Italian football supporters celebrate their victory over Spain during after the Euro 2020 semi-final in Bar Italia, Soho, central London, last night
DOES COVID SPREAD EASILY IN CROWDS?
Experts are divided on how dangerous outdoor crowds are in terms of Covid transmission.
A handful of cases were linked to Black Lives Matter protests during lockdown last year, where huge crowds gathered in London.
Scientists say it is obvious that coronavirus is more likely to spread when people are packed together in closed environments.
But there is mixed evidence that the risk of transmission is as high as previously thought when in outdoor settings.
Government advisor Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said no Covid outbreaks have ever been linked to crowded beaches.
And a Government mass testing programme in Liverpool found using the rapid tests used at large events like football matches and festivals cut transmission by a fifth.
Number 10 launched a swabbing blitz in the city last November, which saw the Army drafted in to help run testing centres.
Fresh modelling released today showed the mass-testing regime helped cut the spread of coronavirus by around a fifth.
Mr Kwarteng told LBC radio: ‘I think we can manage this risk but to say there is no risk, if you have thousands of people in one place. There’s always risk in life.
‘I think we’re managing the risk. I’m confident there won’t be a big outbreak but we can’t guarantee that now.’
Official figures from Scotland showed there were nearly 1,300 Covid cases linked to fans travelling to London for Euro-related events as the nation faced England in the group stages.
That included 397 people who attended the clash in Wembley on June 18, according to Public Health Scotland.
Ministers are concerned about fans breaching social distancing when travelling to matches on public transport, according to The Times.
Other worries include low numbers wearing masks once in the stadium and checks of testing and vaccination status being insufficient.
World Health Organisation spokeswoman Margaret Harris said that mass events, including football matches, continue to present risks for transmission and urged fans to be cautious.
She told Sky News: ‘It is risky. We’re not out of the woods by any stage.
‘We know there are large rises in the numbers of cases, that means you are [more] likely to be exposed to somebody who unknowingly is carrying the virus.
‘Whether you’re vaccinated or not you still can get infected, you still can get a breakthrough infection.’
‘It’s hard when you’re having such a great time, but be serious about your own risk because it’s not just a risk to you – you may bring it back to somebody in your family who is yet to be vaccinated, who may develop the severe disease.
‘So we still have to behave knowing that there is a large amount of virus out there, we haven’t beaten this by any means.’
Pictured: England fans at the last game the team played in Wembley against Germany in the last 16 fixture on June 29
Scotland fans group together in Leicester Square, London, before the Euro 2020 group game against England at Wembley on June 18
Scotland fans pack out Leicester Square in London before the game against England on June 18. Scottish authorities have reported nearly 2,000 coronavirus cases linked to watching European Championship games in stadiums, public gatherings, pubs or private homes
UEFA’s social distancing rules tell fans to stay in their seat during games, maintain their distance from others where possible and wear face masks when not seated
She added: ‘We are tribal creatures, we’re herd animals, we love to be together, we love to do stuff together and it is part of a release of a lot of that tension and stress and anxiety.
‘We at WHO are not against mass gatherings at all, but we do say when you’re in a mass gathering you must take your risk seriously, you must understand what they are and mitigate them.’
Her comments come after Professor Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s national clinical director, said young men meeting up for Euro 2020 games was partially to blame for the recent surge in cases in Scotland.
Six of the ten areas worst-hit by Covid in Europe are currently in Scotland, according to World Health Organization data.
He said the surge in cases may also have been partly fuelled by large gatherings during games, with Scotland playing in its first national football competition since 1998.
Professor Leitch said: ‘Scotland being out [of the Euros] is a very, very unfortunate from a sporting perspective, but probably better from a Covid perspective.’