Crowding together. Shouting. Singing. Welcome to the excitement of football. As England and Italy prepare for the Euro final, scientists are concerned that football is helping drive up Covid-19 infection rates by allowing potentially super spreader events such as the finals at Wembley and Wimbledon. It is predicted that seven million pints will be served during the Euro final tonight in pubs across the land. Health secretary Sajid Javid has suggested we might be heading towards 100,000 new cases a day. Did he take sporting events into account?
It’s coming home but could coronavirus also be coming home with the fans? Maybe Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid want that. Could the Euro final be a booster jab that gets us closer to herd immunity.
Forecasting future coronavirus infection rates is an uncertain process, a blend of empirical data and modelling that at times has seemed like a long range weather forecast. But the epidemiologists, like meteorologists, have broadly got their forecasts right. It is the politicians that often hadn’t recognised this, implementing lockdowns too late and opening up too early.
As we move towards 19 July, the anticipated Freedom Day, infection rates are rising rapidly as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads.
The rapid increase in cases is among younger people, the partially vaccinated population under 60.
It is being suggested that football has a part to play in the rise and that is why there has been a larger increase in cases among men. Professor Karl Friston of UCL has estimated that about 70,000 people will have picked up the infection during football-related activities on the day of the semi-final. That will lead to half a million cases in the next couple of weeks. Tonight’s final may generate many more cases.
Professor Friston predictions are controversial but could Boris Johnson be hoping that the Euro final could more us faster towards herd immunity? London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has run a competition with free Euro final tickets for Londoners that get vaccinated. As it takes ten days for vaccinations to provide a degree of immunity, he is really saying get vaccinated and risk getting Covid at the final!
Football is undoubtedly on the prime minister’s mind. There have been articles suggesting that Boris Johnson could learn from the Gareth Southgate approach to leadership, including by Alastair Campbell. To be honest, Johnson could learn from any approach to leadership but his own.
The concept of herd immunity through natural infection is not a comfortable one. While older have a high degree of immunity through vaccination, many younger people, especially school children, will need to experience Covid-19 to gain immunity. The majority will have mild symptoms. Some will show no symptoms. A small but still import minority will develop long Covid with implications for their future health. A cross-party group of MPs are calling for a review of the dehabilitating condition. Some scientists have warned this approach to immunity is dangerous, as have health workers and metro mayors.
Despite the concerns of scientists and doctors, ministers seem to be determined to open up England on 19 July. People are nervous. A straw poll underway on my Ludlow website suggests that 28% of people want to keep current restrictions and 41% want a partial lifting. Less than a third want a lifting of all restrictions on 19 July. This reflects the national picture where most adults feel that compliance with social distancing measures and wearing a face-covering are “important” or “very important”.
But Boris Johnson seems determined to take what has been described as the “biggest gamble of his life”.
Let’s hope for a euphoric victory tonight. But let’s not forget that there could also be long term consequences of greater socialisation and lowering of restrictions.
* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.