UEFA EURO 2020’s group stage has come to a close, and this provides an ideal moment to take stock of the various measures, plans and protocols that have been put in place as the tournament unfolds amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
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UEFA EURO 2020 chief medical officer Dr Zoran Bahtijarević and UEFA EURO 2020 medical advisor Dr Daniel Koch reflect on the impact of COVID-19 mitigation measures at the event, and answer a series of other key questions.
At this stage of the tournament, how do you judge the success of the COVID-19 mitigation measures that have been put in place for the EURO?
Dr Bahtijarević: We do not see any big increase in the number of cases across the EURO 2020 host venues, or in most of the countries of the participating nations. This demonstrates that our measures are effective and being implemented correctly.
Once again, we would like to stress that this EURO 2020 tournament carries a shared responsibility between UEFA and the competent local authorities in each host venue, as well as each individual involved in the tournament. Additionally, every ticket holder was asked to accept a code of conduct, which specifically addresses all hygiene and safety measures required to fulfil at the stadium.
The EURO has reached the knockout phase – so there is cause for satisfaction at the work accomplished…
Dr Bahtijarević: UEFA has put in place a number of mitigation measures and, so far, we are satisfied with the overall outcome. We are constantly monitoring how these measures are working, and whenever we see areas to improve, we react together with the competent local authorities to tackle them.
Given the current situation, has it been an advantage that the EURO is being staged in 11 countries across Europe rather than in one or two countries?
Dr Koch: It quickly became clear that the better solution at the moment, with this situation, was to [stage the EURO] across Europe. Because if, somewhere, something unexpected happened, it would be easier to move to another place. Fortunately, up until now, nothing [has] happened which was so big that we had to say: ‘OK, we have to go to these options.’
How safe is it for fans to go to the EURO stadiums?
Dr Bahtijarević: No situation exists in life in which we are 100% safe. But I would say that watching [matches] in stadiums is much safer, because you are watching in controlled surroundings, in which UEFA and the local organisers have invested a lot of effort to make the circumstances safer.
How reliable are the measures in place for fans?
Dr Koch: First of all, UEFA doesn’t have the sole responsibility either for spectators in a country, or for travel. It’s always a shared responsibility with the authorities in the various countries as well as the individuals to respect all mitigation measures put in place for them.
Now, the question, ultimately, is whether it is safer to have 65,000 people in a stadium, or if it makes a difference if it’s only 20,000, or if it makes a difference at all? I have to say that it depends on the local situation and the measures that the country has imposed, and especially on the epidemiological situation of the country.
If we look at the countries now, it’s very difficult to forecast even two weeks [in advance], but for a long time, the situation in Europe has never been as good as it is now. It doesn’t automatically mean that, if we have people in the stadium, this increases the risks. You go into the stadium with security measures, you travel with security measures, and that’s not making any difference to the evolution of the epidemic at the moment.
I think it’s too easy just to look either at [just] the virus or [just] at events. The danger is there, and the danger is much more complex in such situations, and you have to carry out a deep analysis to take the right measures. At the moment, what we have seen in Europe is that partly filling the stadiums is a safe thing to do. The EURO is a very important event, not only because it creates joy and happiness in the population, but also because sport is important for young people. We will not have children and young people moving enough or doing enough sports if we [distance] them from their idols, or if we cut out where they get their inspiration from. I think Europe has to go back to some normality, because for a healthy population in Europe, sport is a very important issue.
Obviously in addition to the fans, the safety of the teams and their players is of paramount importance…
Dr Bahtijarević: We have strongly recommended that the teams respect the recommendations that we have given them in terms of staying in their 'team bubbles' as much as possible. It’s in their best interests and in the interests of public health.
Many teams will now be travelling to other countries for the knockout matches, rather than staying in one country. Does this present any particular problems?
Dr Bahtijarević: If the teams respect our recommendations, they are actually travelling from their base camp, which is a ‘bubble’ and which should be a protected environment. They will be travelling using their own group of vehicles in which all the drivers have been tested, and most of them are vaccinated too. They will fly on their own charter flight, and at the airport they’re using special boarding procedures, which is also actually limiting their contact with the population. When they arrive in a country, they have a special disembarkation procedure, they use their own vehicles and travel to a protected environment at the hotel. I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the teams on qualifying for the last 16…and would call on them once again to respect the measures in place, because they are there for their benefit.
EURO COVID-19 mitigation measures : Key facts and figures
A rundown of measures, activities and statistics showing how UEFA is committed to delivering a safe UEFA EURO 2020 for everyone involved