Sport

UEFA Officials Allowed to Visit U.K. Without Quarantine

The chances of Brits holidaying abroad this year are slim at best. But the Government, while enforcing severe restrictions on its own citizens, has decided to allow almost three thousand football “VIPs” to attend the Euro 2020 finals without having to abide by quarantine rules. The Telegraph has the story.

Ministers are facing a backlash from senior Tory MPs over the decision to exempt UEFA officials, politicians and sponsors from having to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in the U.K.

It comes days after it was reported that UEFA had threatened to move the matches to Budapest unless ministers relented on the quarantine rules. Sources said the U.K. would have lost out if it had failed to compromise.

While the agreement still needs final sign-off by public health officials, sources told the Telegraph the exemption was due to commence on July 5th – a day before the first semi-final at Wembley. It will remain in place until after the final, which is being played on July 11th. 

The number of VIPs due to travel to the U.K. is expected to be in the “low thousands”, although Government sources say many will only remain for one match.

The exemption was personally negotiated by Dan Rosenfield, Mr Johnson’s Chief of Staff, who is an avid football fan and supports Manchester United. The details emerged after ministers announced on Tuesday that the capacity at Wembley would be increased to 75%, enabling 60,000 fans to attend the semi-finals and final.

The VIPs will be required to provide a negative pre-departure test and undergo testing during their stay. They will be allowed to stay in tournament hotels and travel between matches and official meetings, but will be told to limit their movements outside these permitted activities. It was unclear whether they will be allowed to dine at restaurants. 

David Davis, a former Cabinet minister,  said the decision on VIPs was “morally inconsistent”, while another MP said it was “absurd and indefensible”. 

British holidaymakers currently have to isolate at home for 10 days and pay for at least two PCR tests if they visit “Amber List” countries, from which the vast majority of the football VIPs will be coming.

On Thursday, ministers will consider exempting fully vaccinated Britons from quarantine on their return from amber destinations, but the change is not expected until after the Euro finals. Holidaymakers are also likely to still face expensive PCR tests in order to track variants.

Worth reading in full.

Government to Exempt 2,500 Football Officials from Travel Quarantine Rules so Euro Finals Can Take Place at Wembley

Thousands of Brits had their holiday plans ruined when Portugal was demoted to the travel “Amber List” earlier this month. But now the Government is considering making 2,500 football officials exempt from quarantine rules so that the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final can take place in England. The Guardian has the story.

The proposal would exempt about 2,500 UEFA and FIFA officials, politicians, sponsors and broadcasters from the quarantine restrictions faced by ordinary travellers, according to the Times.

On Monday, the Government announced a four-week delay to the final easing of lockdown restrictions in England in order to allow more people to be vaccinated to combat the Delta coronavirus variant.

The only teams playing in the tournament on England’s “Green List” of countries that do not require isolation on arrival are Wales and Scotland.

All others are on the “Amber List” bar Turkey, which is on the “Red List”. Travellers arriving from Red List countries must stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days while those from amber list countries must self-isolate at home for 10 days, although they can get released from quarantine early if they pay for a private test, at least five days after arrival, and it comes back negative.

Asked how it would be fair for VIPs to have a different set of rules from the general public, the Policing and Crime Minister, Kit Malthouse, said: “I haven’t seen the detail of that particular proposal. One of the things we are trying to do though is obviously accommodate the Euros as much as we possibly can.

“And while much of the concern around coronavirus regulations has been about whether one situation is fair compared with another situation what we’re generally trying to do is make difficult decisions about the path of a virus, at the same time as trying to enable the ordinary operation of very special events like the Euros and, no doubt, health professionals and the immigration professionals at the Home Office and then the senior ministers who make a decision will take all of that into account as we proceed.

“And look, it’s a great competition, we’re very lucky to have it, we’re trying to make it happen with as much kind of satisfaction all round as we possibly can and that will be taken into account in the decision over the next few days.”

So what about everyone else, Boris?

Worth reading in full.

Euro 2020 and Wimbledon Matches Used as Pilot Events for New “NHS Covid Pass”

A new “NHS Covid Pass”, showing a user’s vaccine status, as well as recent test results, will be piloted at upcoming Euro 2020 and Wimbledon matches and could later be introduced at a range of other sport and entertainment events, despite the Government deciding against making Covid status certificates compulsory for attendance at mass gatherings. The Mail has the story.

The existing NHS App, which already provides details of a person’s vaccinations, has been modified so that there is an option to enter Covid test results.

Those who have not been double-jabbed will be able to do a lateral flow test at home and then log it on the app. Spot checks will be performed on a small number of spectators arriving at grounds to show they are being truthful about their negative result.

A Whitehall source said… “The NHS Covid Pass will help us to safely unlock capacity crowds at the Euros and Wimbledon and hopefully deliver a fantastic summer of sporting success.” …

Wimbledon and Euro 2020 matches will be used as pilot events as ministers consider whether the NHS Covid Pass should be used more widely.

The Government has ruled out making it compulsory for venues to make people share their coronavirus status. Instead, they are concentrating on giving organisers the option of asking fans to use the NHS Covid Pass so big sporting events can go ahead safely.

All courts at Wimbledon will operate at 50% capacity for most of the tournament, which kicks off in less than two weeks.

Both [only!] the women’s singles final on July 10th and the men’s singles final on July 11th are set to be played in front of full capacity crowds.

Worth reading in full.

Stadium Cancels Tickets for June 26th After “Discussions With Government”

A reader contacted us to tell us he just received the email above from the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, cancelling his tickets for the June 26th cricket match between England and Sri Lanka – five days after “Freedom Day”. It reads: “You will be aware of the continuing uncertainty around the return of supporters to sports stadia. In light of this and following discussions with Government and public health agencies, the capacity of the stadium has been restricted for this match.”

The reader comments:

Now, the really telling part of this is where it says “following discussions with Government and public health agencies” because this shows us that the decision to cancel most fans’ tickets hasn’t been made by those at Hampshire County Cricket Club because of what they think is the best approach – it is because of what they have been told to do.

I don’t want to spread fear over a delay to the easing of social distancing while we await Monday’s announcement or confirmation, but it seems incredibly unlikely to me that the Government would tell Hampshire CCC to reduce the capacity for this game if they hadn’t already made up their minds that social distancing will still be in place at least up until June 26th.

The signs are becoming ominous indeed. It will now be a pleasant surprise if Boris comes out on Monday and announces – as he should – that Freedom Day is going ahead as planned. As usual, the doom-mongers around the Prime Minister are winning. Will they ever let us go?

Meanwhile, more than two months ago in Texas

Apr 5, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; A view of the crowd and the fans and the stands during the playing of the Canadian and USA national anthems before the game between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

U.K.’s Biggest Crowd in More Than a Year Celebrates Football’s Return

The U.K.’s biggest crowd in more than a year celebrated the return of football on Saturday evening for the final of the FA Cup – but Wembley Stadium was still at less than a quarter of capacity. The MailOnline has the story.

Youri Tielemans struck the only goal of the game in the Foxes’ triumph over Chelsea, with the Club’s tearful owner dedicating the trophy to his father, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in a helicopter crash in 2018.

The return of so many fans, however – meaning the national stadium was at nearly a quarter of capacity – was arguably the biggest winner on the day.  

In what was the latest Government pilot event to trial life after lockdown, every supporter to walk through the turnstiles had to return a negative lateral flow test before settling down to watch the glamour tie. 

Many wore facemasks throughout the game but thousands of delirious Leicester fans embraced each other at the final whistle, as they clinched their first ever FA Cup.

Outside their home ground, the King Power Stadium, hundreds more gathered to celebrate, waving flags and letting off flares.

While it provided hope for many as a glimpse of a return to normality, ministers today called for caution, with the Culture Secretary admitting the U.K. is entering a “period of heightened vigilance”, with the Indian variant threatening the return of live events. 

Oliver Dowden said the Government will continue to assess the spread of the variant in the coming weeks and update venues on their reopening.

Limited audiences will be allowed back into theatres, music venues and sports stadiums from Monday as part of the third stage of Boris Johnson’s “roadmap” out of lockdown.

Step four – planned for June 21st – would see social distancing end and many venues able to stage shows to a full house for the first time since the start of the pandemic.  

But Government scientists revealed in minutes released on Friday night that the “highly transmissible” Indian variant could be 50% more infectious than the Kent strain – which models project could lead to 1,000 deaths a day, as well as 10,000 daily hospitalisations, by the summer. 

And while the Prime Minister is pinning his hopes of beating the virus on a “flexed” jab drive, experts fear vaccinations are not the key to slowing the spread.

Given the Government’s pessimistic outlook, there is no doubt that we will have to wait much longer for events such as these to return to normal. The Government is said to have already told football’s UEFA that crowd sizes at upcoming events will be limited to 45,000.

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.

“New Normal”: Sports Fans Could Be Banned From Drinking and Encouraged to Stamp, Not Cheer

A member of SAGE has suggested that the Government should learn from the Black Lives Matter movement in how to make mask-wearing and social distancing “an inherent part” of attending sports events, as plans are being drawn up to ban drinking and encourage stamping and clapping rather than cheering at large events. The Times has the story.

Sports fans could be banned from drinking and encouraged to stamp and clap instead of cheering under plans to make mass events safe for the summer.

As British cities prepare to host football’s European Championships, tests are under way to discover whether it is better for social distancing to ban alcohol or to serve fans pints in their seats to prevent crowding at bars.

Ministers have accepted that testing before entry is likely to be required to make concerts, festivals and sporting fixtures safe even after all restrictions are lifted on June 21st. They are debating which elements of social distancing and Covid-secure rules will need to remain in place beyond that date…

Boris Johnson is keen to take a cautious approach to reopening and pilots are taking place to see which mitigation measures will need to be retained at concerts, nightclubs and stadiums.

The use of masks, physical distancing, hugs and handshakes, singing and the sharing of food and drink are all being monitored using CCTV and wearable devices. Different levels of social distancing rules and ventilation are also being trialled, with participants being tested five days later…

Professor Dame Theresa Marteau of the University of Cambridge, a behavioural scientist and member of SAGE, is chairing the scientific group overseeing the test events. In a scientific paper published just before they began, she argued it would be essential to create “new norms” for sports and music fans. “While it is a basic norm of many sports crowds that people express passionate support for their team, and without that the whole activity has little meaning… it may be possible to develop new and distinctive ways of expressing that passion (stamping, clapping, etc) that are of lower risk than shouting or singing,” she wrote.

She suggested learning from the Black Lives Matter movement in how to weave Covid-secure messages into the fabric of sporting events – making social distancing and mask-wearing “an inherent part” of what it means to be a fan of a team. However, she emphasised this would need to be developed in partnership with fans rather than imposed by the Government.

Players and pop stars should be encouraged to “scrupulously observe restrictions such as not hugging each other after a success” to reinforce the message, she suggested.

Worth reading in full.

Let’s Show the Red Card to Vaccine Passports for Football Fans

In today’s Spectator, I’ve set out the case against making sports fans produce a ‘Covid Status Certificates’ as a condition of allowing them into stadiums after May 17th. I’m going to set out the case in full for Lockdown Sceptics tomorrow, but in the meantime here’s an extract from the Spectator article:

The first and most obvious objection is that it’s a breach of my liberty. It’s an inversion of the Common Law principle that everything should be permitted unless the law specifically prohibits it. Under this scheme, I am only allowed to do something if permitted to do so by law, which is the principle underlying the Napoleonic Code. As a freeborn Englishman, I prefer the Common Law tradition, which was one of my reasons for supporting Brexit.

It’s also discriminatory. I don’t just mean it will discriminate against those who haven’t been vaccinated or can’t otherwise demonstrate they are ‘safe’, but against those groups more likely to be suspicious of vaccines and who cannot afford alternative forms of certification. We know that vaccine hesitancy is higher among the UK’s black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations. Do we really want to see fewer of these spectators at sporting events? True, there are alternative ways of demonstrating you’re not an infection risk, such as getting a PCR test, but if you don’t want to jump through a lot of hoops they cost a minimum of £120. And an unvaccinated sports fan would have to get it redone before every fixture. For those who’ve had COVID-19, there’s the option of getting an antibody test, but you can’t get those on the NHS unless you work in primary care, social care or education.

In short, if the Government makes entry to sporting venues contingent on having a vaccine passport, it will be discriminating against minorities and the less well-off.

You can read the whole article on the Spectator‘s website.

Stop Press: The Guardian had a story on its front page today saying the Equalities and Human Rights Commission thinks a general certification scheme could fall foul of anti-discrimination law because it would restrict access to essential services for those groups less likely to get vaccinated – including migrants, those from minority ethnic backgrounds and those on low incomes.

Outdoor Sports Events Should Be Open to All, Including the Unvaccinated

Last week, the UK’s sports bodies wrote a joint letter to the leaders of the main political parties. It warned that the return of some spectators from May 17th will be “insufficient to end sport’s Covid financial crisis” because attendance will be capped at 25% of capacity in larger venues.

“Looking ahead to June 21,” the letter went on, “we support the Government’s ambition to secure the full return of fans, without restrictions if possible.” However, it also said, “All of our sports can see the benefit that a Covid certification process offers in getting more fans safely back to their sport as quickly as possible.”

In other words: the sports bodies want to get fans back into bleachers as soon as possible, preferably without restrictions, but if using vaccine passports is what it takes, then so be it.

However, my reading of the evidence is that vaccine passports would provide little benefit at outdoor sports events (which I assume covers most such events). And given objections that have been raised on grounds of privacy and non-discrimination, mandating them for all sports events seems like a very unwise idea.

To begin with, the percentage of people with COVID-19 antibodies is now well above 50% in England and Wales, as this chart from the ONS indicates:

The percentage will be even higher by May 17th, when spectators can finally return to stadiums. And it will be higher still when the next football season begins in August. Due to the seasonality of COVID-19, transmission is likely to be low over the summer, so by the time restrictions might be needed in September, a very large percentage of people will have some form of immunity.

What’s more, evidence suggests that the vast majority of infections occur indoors. This is because wind quickly disperses the virus in outdoor environments, and viral particles degrade more quickly when exposed to sunlight.

In Ireland, only 0.1% of infections could be traced to outdoor activities (though this doesn’t include all the associated indoor activities, such as travel to and from events). And despite England’s packed beaches last summer, the epidemiologist (and SAGE member) Mark Woolhouse told MPs there were “no outbreaks” linked to beaches.

A systematic review of five studies published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases found that less than 10% of infections occurred outdoors. And a recent study published in Environmental Research concluded that “the probability of airborne transmission due to respiratory aerosol is very low in outdoor conditions”.

Chris Whitty has said, “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors.” And a paper by the PHE Transmission group notes, “Evidence continues to suggest that the vast majority of transmission happens in indoor spaces.”

Before the UK’s hugely successful vaccine rollout, the risk of outdoor transmission was low. By the time sports venues re-open on May 17th, the risk will be even lower. While there are some circumstances where Covid certification makes sense (like visiting relatives in care homes), attending outdoor sports events is not one of them. Instead of spending more time checking fans at the entrance, venues would be better off improving ventilation in high-risk spaces.

It’s time to get fans back into stadiums – but they should only have to show a ticket on their way in.