- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2021

The World Health Organization said Thursday it is worried that the European soccer championship is fueling the spread of the coronavirus amid fears about the fast-moving delta strain.

Most European countries have fully vaccinated a third or so of their populations, leaving many on the continent vulnerable to COVID-19 as fans crisscross borders to enjoy Euro 2020 after a yearlong delay.

Thousands of fans are packing stadiums to let off steam after a year of lockdowns. But there are risks beyond the outdoor venues, according to WHO.

“We need to look much beyond just the stadia themselves,” said Catherine Smallwood, WHO’s senior emergency officer. “Around the stadia, how are people getting there? Are they traveling in large, crowded convoys of buses?”

“What’s happening after the games, when they leave the stadiums?” she said. “Are they going into crowded bars and pubs to watch the matches?”

She cited an analysis from Scotland that found 2,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 after watching a match at a stadium, fan zone or pub.

About two-thirds were linked to the Scotland-England game in London on June 18, including nearly 400 who entered Wembley Stadium and others who gathered in public squares around the city.

Some infections were tied to fan zones in Glasgow or games at Hampden Park.

Finland reported that 120 fans tested positive after returning from St. Petersburg, Russia.

Fans traveling for the tournament have faced a patchwork of quarantine rules and stadium capacity limits ranging from 15,000 to 60,000.

The European soccer governing body’s decision to permit big crowds enraged some officials.

“UEFA’s position is utterly irresponsible,” German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Thursday.

London plans to permit 60,000 fans in Wembley for each of the semifinal matches next week and the final on July 11.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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