Football tournament 2021: study counts 840,000 cases of corona due to MS

Football tournament 2021: study counts 840,000 cases of corona due to MS

Status: 01/18/2023 11:01 am

The 2020 European Football Championship – held in 2021 – caused nearly a million additional corona infections in twelve of the participating nations. One study shows this. In Britain, the number has risen particularly dramatically.

More than 60,000 spectators in stadiums, hundreds of thousands in front of screens and in pubs or at public exhibitions: In the last European Football Championship, in the middle of the pandemic, more people came together than in a long time. Even so, the event was controversial because experts feared thousands of infections. Critics spoke of a super spreader event and even the then Federal Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer, called on UEFA to significantly reduce the allowed number of spectators.

A study in which, among others, physicist and modeler Viola Priesemann from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen was involved, has now come to a sobering conclusion: The tournament resulted in twelve participating countries for which there was enough data available, for an additional 840,000 corona infections. The researchers evaluated epidemiological data, such as the daily number of cases and the sex of those infected. From this, an estimated 1,000 deaths can be derived.

Few infections in the stadium

One finding: there was less contagion in stadiums than in private gatherings, for example in bars and apartments, where people watched games together. “The stadiums themselves are a fairly insignificant site of infection relative to infections across the country,” says Priesemann. The R-value, i.e. the number of people infected by a single infected person, is most important for a country. This increased by an average of 0.46 on matchdays across participating countries. The situation in England was particularly drastic: there, the R-value on “Three Lions” match days increased from around 1 to as high as 3 – in Scotland even to 4. Instead of one person at England matches, 3 people were infected by an infected person – Apparently because more English people looked for it in bars or acquaintances than, for example, Germans.

The rhythm of a team’s games was particularly unfavorable: “After four days, many people – if they were infected in the last game – are still asymptomatic but already infectious”, says Priesemann.

And of course, it didn’t just stop with game-day infections – because each infected person started a chain of infection, which is estimated to have infected an average of four more people per virus carrier in the investigation period to the end of July 2021. “This shows that infections are not a private matter,” says Priesemann. “Because the virus also spreads to vulnerable population groups through these infection chains.”

Big differences between countries

The tournament was then postponed from 2020 to summer 2021. It took place from 12 June to 12 July in ten different cities from Seville to St. Petersburg. In the end, Italy won the title. The study shows huge differences between countries: for example, the Czech Republic played five matches. But despite the great enthusiasm for football in the country, there have only been around 460 additional infections per million people.

A completely different picture in England: as a result, about 11,000 people per million inhabitants contracted the corona virus there – this is more than twenty times more. This was not only due to the greater number of games, as the English team played seven games before the final, but mainly due to the lower incidence at the beginning of the tournament in the Czech Republic.

Germany with good numbers

According to the poll, Germany also fared relatively well in the tournament. At the start of the tournament, according to the RKI, the seven-day incidence was just 17 – and even dropped to 7.1 in mid-July. This could have several reasons, says Priesemann. On the one hand, the number of unreported cases was quite low – this facilitates the interruption of chains of infection. Rapid tests were available in every industry and were also actively used. Early warnings from politicians and health experts may also have contributed to this. “But that doesn’t mean that no chain of infection was unleashed at the European Championships in Germany,” said the physicist.

As a reminder, at the time, the more dangerous Delta variant was on the rise. At the start of the tournament, the initial vaccination rate was less than 50% and only one in four Germans had received a second injection. Maybe that’s why the Germans were generally more cautious than the British, where the vaccination campaign was already more advanced.

Information for upcoming major events

The study could also provide clues about how major events might be made safer during a potential future pandemic. “The decisive factor is really the low incidence at the beginning of a tournament. Because the chains of infection are correspondingly smaller afterwards”, says Priesemann.

His colleague Philip Bechtle from the University of Bonn, who also took part in the study, also explains: “If vulnerable groups are to be protected, preventive measures are necessary during a major sporting event.” In addition to the low incidence and low R-value, masks, more tests and vaccines, and early reduction in contact can also help curb the infection process.