It’s official. England have made it to the Euro 2020 final after conceding only a single goal on an otherwise clean sheet during the year-late tournament. On Sunday 11 July they will take on Italy at Wembley stadium as the nation waits for Gareth Southgate’s team to bring it home.
After nearly 18 months of living through a pandemic, it is good to have reason to celebrate as a nation. More than 60,000 fans were permitted to attend the semi-final in person (at full capacity the stadium permits 90,000 spectators), including Boris Johnson and Prince William. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also posted photographs of himself in a pub enjoying the match.
But as coronavirus cases keep rising it is crucial to remember that this is not without risk. In the last seven days there have been almost 193,000 positive Covid cases in the UK, an increase of 58,000 (43 per cent) on the previous week. And 2,460 patients have been admitted to hospital as a result (a week on week increase of 45 per cent).
Although the rollout of the vaccine is successfully reducing the link between catching the virus and serious illness, we are certainly not out of the woods yet.
Is the Euro tournament increasing risk?
It already seems the Euros could be contributing to the uptick in case numbers.
A study released on Thursday based on data from Imperial College London found that men are around 30 per cent more likely than women to contract Covid at the current time; a trend that has been attributed to the higher proportion of men gathering to watch football.
Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial, who worked on the study, said: “I think the degree to which men and women are socialising, is likely to be responsible. And then because of the timing of that, then it could be that watching football is resulting in men having more social activity than usual."
When Scottish fans travelled to Wembley for a match on 18 June it was also linked to a number of positive cases: nearly 1,300 Scotland fans who went to London later tested positive for coronavirus, with a total of almost 2,000 football-related cases emerging days later.
So how safe is it to go to the pub to watch?
Gathering to watch the historic match is a once-in-a-lifetime event that many are not going to want to miss out on - but how risky is it?
Throughout the pandemic we have constantly been told about the need to balance risk and continue to operate in the safest way possible by ensuring that venues are Covid secure and patrons adhere to rules including mask wearing, table service and booking ahead of time.
A paper published by the University of Stirling in December 2020 sent researchers to pubs to examine the behaviour of drinkers. It found that “despite the efforts of bar operators and guidance from government, potentially significant risks of Covid-19 transmission persisted in a substantial minority of bars” and that was especially the case when customers were drunk.
It listed examples of cases where it thought there was some increased risk of transmission: short-lived breaches of distancing, drunk customers dancing with other tables, staff leaning over with no face mask to serve drinks or food.
And it warned other behaviours - groups of people singing, shouting or playing music, groups moving around the bar without distancing and customers taking selfies and hugging each other - put you in greater danger of coming into contact with the virus.
Simon Clarke, professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, tells The Independent: “Watching the football in a pub likely represents a greater risk than watching it at home because you’re mixing with other people, and the more people you mix with, the greater the risk. That of course does not mean that you are guaranteed to get infected at the pub.”
Although even if you do not contract the virus, there is always the risk that you will be asked to isolate by the NHS app if you come into close proximity at the pub with someone who has tested positive - one in every 170 people is now infected. This period of isolation lasts 10 days so ensure you don’t have other plans in that timeframe.
More than 350,000 pings were sent through the NHS Covid-19 app in the week to 30 June, telling users to self-isolate. That is an increase of 62 per cent on the previous week. According to BBC analysis of current statistics, more than 4.5 million people could be asked to self-isolate in the next few weeks. The hospitality industry and NHS have already warned that staff shortages due to isolation are impacting services.
What can I do to make it safer?
If you are going to the pub for the match on Sunday, Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, tells The Independent that much of it is about following the same rules we have followed so far - particularly making space between yourself and other households where possible.
Head said: “When it comes to infection control, it’s important to remember the basics – watch the game in a well-ventilated or outdoor space, if at all possible, and wear a facemask and keep your distance from others as much as you can.”
So when booking a table - ask for one outside in a pub garden or near an open window to ensure that you are ventilating the space. Professor Riley from Imperial reiterated this: “There’s lots of evidence that mixing inside is more likely to result in transmission than mixing outside.”
If you do get a booking inside then perhaps considering wearing a face mask while watching the game, Head said: “When in indoor spaces such as pubs, guidance suggests wearing a facemask when not eating or drinking”, although the primary benefit of wearing a mask is to protect others rather than yourself so it might not be very effective if everyone else is maskless.
There are certain things you should absolutely avoid, says Professor Clarke: “We see scenes of celebrations [with] spontaneous cheering, shouting and hugging. The hugging is a clear problem, but the cheering and shouting in close proximity to other people is [also] troublesome, even when done in a pub garden.”
However he does conclude by saying that if all rules are followed a visit to the pub during the final “should represent no greater chance of infection than any other visit to the pub”.
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