Study counts 840,000 corona cases of EM in 2021

Status: 01/18/2023 11:01 a.m.

The 2020 European Football Championship – held in 2021 – caused an additional 840,000 corona infections in twelve of the participating nations. A study shows it. In Britain, the number has increased particularly dramatically.

More than 60,000 spectators in stadiums, hundreds of thousands in front of screens and in pubs or during public screenings: during the last European Football Championship, in the midst of a pandemic, more people gathered than hadn’t been there for a long time. Even then, the event was controversial as experts feared thousands of infections. Critics spoke of a widespread event and even the then Federal Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer, called on UEFA to correct the number of spectators allowed significantly downwards.

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 brought together twelve participating countries for which there was sufficient data were available, to approximately 840,000 additional corona infections. The researchers assessed epidemiological data, such as the number of daily cases and the sex of those infected. From this, we can deduce about 1000 deaths.

Few infections in the stadium

An observation: there was less infection in the stadiums than in private meetings, for example in pubs and apartments, where people watched matches together. “The stadiums themselves are rather negligible as a place of infection compared to infections throughout the country,” says Priesemann. The R value, i.e. the number of people infected by a single infected person, is more important for a country. This increased by an average of 0.46 on match days in participating countries. The situation in England was particularly dramatic: there the R-value on matchdays of the “Three Lions” rose from around 1 to 3 – in Scotland itself to 4. Instead of a person during matches in England , 3 people were infected by an infected. nobody – Apparently because more English people looked in pubs or at acquaintances than, say, Germans.

The pace of one team’s matches was particularly unfavorable: “After four days, many people – if they were infected in the last match – are still asymptomatic but already contagious,” says Priesemann.

And of course it didn’t stop at infections on matchdays – as each infected person set off a chain of infection which is estimated to have infected an average of four additional people per virus carrier over the course of the investigation period until the end of July 2021. “It shows that infections are not a private matter,” says Priesemann. “Because the virus also spreads to vulnerable population groups via such chains of infection.”

Big differences between countries

The tournament was then postponed from 2020 to the summer of 2021. It took place from June 12 to July 12 in ten different cities, from Seville to Saint Petersburg. In the end, Italy won the title. The study shows huge differences between countries: for example, the Czech Republic played five games. But despite 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, around 11,000 people per million inhabitants contracted the corona virus there – that’s more than twenty times as many. 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 lesser impact at the start of the tournament in the Czech Republic.

Germany with good numbers

According to the survey, Germany also acquitted themselves 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 by mid-July. This could have several reasons, says Priesemann. On the one hand, the number of unreported cases was quite low, which makes it easier to stop the chains of infection. Rapid tests were available in all areas and were also actively used. Advance warnings from politicians and health experts could also have contributed. “But that doesn’t mean that no chain of infection was triggered during the European Championships in Germany,” the physicist said.

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

Information for future major events

The study could also provide clues as to how major events can be made safer during a possible future pandemic. “The decisive factor is really the low incidence at the start of a tournament. Because the chains of infection are proportionally lower afterwards,” says Priesemann.

His colleague Philip Bechtle from the University of Bonn, who also participated in the study, also explains: “If vulnerable groups are to be protected, preventive measures are necessary during a major sporting event. In addition to low incidence and a low R value, masks, more testing and vaccinations, and an early reduction in contacts could also help contain the infection process.

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