EURO 2020’s medical advisor Dr Daniel Koch, a Swiss expert on communicable diseases, explains why staging the tournament in 11 different countries is facilitating UEFA’s efforts to protect everyone involved from the risk of infection.
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At the start of the global pandemic, Dr Daniel Koch, head of communicable diseases at the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, won widespread respect in his home country thanks to regular and reassuring advice on combating the COVID-19 virus. As medical advisor to UEFA EURO 2020, the benefits of Dr Koch’s expertise will reach far beyond his native Switzerland.
Since joining European football’s governing body in January 2021, Dr Koch has played a key role in ensuring UEFA meets its number one objective for the EUROs – minimising the risks of infection for everyone involved in the tournament, from players and match officials to organisers and the limited numbers of returning fans. This has involved working closely with government and health authorities at all 11 host EURO venues and helping the governing body produce its own minimum health and hygiene requirements to supplement local regulations in each country.
Talking to UEFA Direct on the eve of UEFA EURO 2020, Dr Koch decribed himself as "very pleased and quite optimistic".
How are you feeling about where we are ahead of the tournament?
"If we look at the numbers in Europe now, the curves are going down. That was somewhat expected, because it’s coming into summer, and respiratory viruses are seasonal in our region. So, we are confident and happy at the moment, because when we started the planning, this was not so clear."
Is it a big victory to be able to retain the concept of hosting it in 11 different cities across Europe?
"I don’t think it’s a victory; I think it’s an advantage. It’s better to have it spread around so we have more flexibility if one of the cities [drops] out, but for now, we are very happy that it’s stayed at this big number of 11. I think it was an incorrect assumption to say it would be much easier if there’s only one country, because then you have fans from all over going to the same place and going back, which produces exactly the same danger of spreading."
Who is UEFA’s EURO 2020 medical advisor?
After studying medicine in the Swiss capital of Bern and qualifying as a physician, in 1988, Dr Koch joined the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). During his 14-year career with the ICRC, he served as medical coordinator in Sierra Leone, Uganda, South Africa and Peru. In 1996/97, Dr Koch obtained a Master's degree in public health (MPH) at the renowned Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the United States.
As well as serving as the head of communicable diseases at Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health, Dr Koch also oversaw the pandemic preparedness and vaccination sections. In 2002/03, he was a member of a task force addressing the SARS pandemic, the H5N1 avian influenza and, subsequently, the influenza pandemic H1N1 in 2009.
Has the pan-European format actually been an advantage for staging the tournament during a pandemic?
"Yes. I think it isn’t right to say, 'OK, if we close everything, that’s the safest option', because what we’ve seen now is that fans go and have their parties in any case, whether it’s organised or not. So, it’s much safer to prepare and to organise, and I think the advantage is that, now, 11 places can organise their security for the fans – because it’s clear that the security of the fans is, for UEFA, a top priority – and that makes it easier. The risk that it gets out of control is much less.
"EURO 2020’s pan-European format also means that nine national teams will play at home. These fans can attend their team’s matches without having to cross borders.
"Of course, we have to be cautious because international travel is not only dependent on UEFA’s position. It’s really the big issue in Europe, and we have to see how that develops in the next few weeks. I think, in most cases, it’ll be flying in and flying out. I think that will be the more normal thing."
What would your message be to the teams and the fans?
"Play fair. The footballers are playing fair. I think [the fans need] to be cautious, to enjoy it but also to respect the rules."