The UK’s largest stadium was allowed to open at around three-quarters capacity for the semi-finals and final of the competition, meaning up to 180,000 fans could be part of the largest sporting crowds the country has seen since the introduction of lockdown restrictions last March.
The news comes amid reports suggesting large numbers of fans have also contracted the virus since attending the final. So large have the anecdotal numbers been that some have taken to calling the virus surge among supporters “the Wembley variant”.
Scientists were alarmed by the government's decision to allow successive potential "super-spreader" events and evidence showed there were hundreds of new cases among fans who attended the much lower capacity group stage match at Wembley between England and Scotland.
The government said attendance of the Events Research Programme matches would require proof of a negative test or full vaccination, but ticket-holding fans have told The Independent they were allowed into the stadium without being properly checked.
Fans also said there was no way for stewards to verify if entrants were providing evidence of their own Covid status.
Stewards would accept a screenshot of a vaccination certificate without scanning the QR code or a screenshot of an email confirming a negative lateral flow test, according to attendees.
Keith Maple, who has tested positive for Covid since attending England’s semi-final and the final, told The Independent that verification standards slipped as match day progressed and stewards tried to work through large crowds of home supporters quickly.
At the semi-final, Mr Maple said he was allowed past stewards by showing a screenshot of his NHS Covid pass.
“They didn’t ask for ID, nor did they scan the screen. For track and trace there is no way of saying I have Covid and I was in the stadium that day,” he said.
“Others told me they were accepting screenshots of the email confirming a lateral flow test; for all they know it could have been a forwarded email.
“It was supposed to be a test event but no one can know who got Covid.”
Vittorio Angelone, who attended the final in the Italy section, said the verification process was similar on the less crowded away gates.
“They were definitely checking if you had an email saying you were negative or the app but no cross-referencing with ID or anything,” Mr Angelone told The Independent.
“I was at the Italy gate which was probably less hectic than the others but it was still just a glance at a phone screen and nothing more.”
He added: “Also you could just send the QR code of a test to the website saying it’s negative and they have no way of knowing so it’s all based on some element of trust.”
Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told The Independent that concern was raised among health experts upon hearing that the Euros final would be held in London.
“It seems that our fears are being confirmed. There were clearly many problems, including media accounts of people bribing stewards to get in,” he said.
“We are also hearing many accounts of people who were at the match and have tested positive and, although it is too early to say anything with certainty, I hope PHE will be listening to those who were there to help interpret the data they get through their usual channels.”
Prof McKee added that the expected rise in cases after the final would serve as “a reminder of the tremendous gamble that the prime minister has chosen to take” in lifting restrictions in less than one week’s time.
The government's Events Research Programme has seen larger and larger crowds allowed to gather for major sporting events including the Euros and Wimbledon, along with trials of packed nightlife environments and entertainment venues.
The reliance on lateral flow testing for Events Research Programme dates was warned against by scientists weeks ago but the government has not changed requirements.
Speaking after the Wembley final, Professor Denis Kinane, an immunologist and co-founder of testing company Cignpost Diagnostics, told The Independent the reliance on lateral flow testing was concerning.
“The problem with lateral flow is it can only be a red light to say, stop, you have Covid. But it doesnt work as a green light to say, all good, you definitely don’t have Covid,” he said.
Prof Kinane pointed to testing figures from after the Scotland match at Wembley, where requirements were the same as for later games.
“We've just seen awful lot of positive cases from men in that standard football fan age group and demographic,” he said. “To see a big upsurge in cases just as we're letting up restrictions is concerning.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport told The Independent the government had been “absolutely clear in encouraging all members of the public to do the right thing for themselves, for their families and for the general public in following Covid-19 guidance at all times”.
A spokeperson for the department said there had been “a range of successful” Events Research Programme test events so far.
They said: “The increase of capacity at Wembley Stadium to more than 60,000 for the EURO 2020 semi-finals and final has provided the opportunity to assess how we can best mitigate transmission risks and logistical challenges in preparation for fans returning to stadiums and events in greater numbers.”
They added: “It is important to remember that the UK has the highest vaccine take up across Europe and like all Events Research Programme pilots, ticket holders were required to be ready to show proof of vaccination, or a negative Lateral Flow Test in addition to their ticketing requirements.
“This included using the NHS Covid Pass as a fast and secure way to verify an individual’s Covid-19 status, with security features built in, including an animated shimmer that cannot be screen grabbed to prevent fraud.”
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