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Lack of COVID-19 awareness at Euro final 'devastating': WHO

Lack of COVID-19 awareness at Euro final 'devastating': WHO

England fans gather during the Euro 2020 final match outside Wembley Stadium, Jul 11, 2021. (Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith)

GENEVA: A World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist said she had been devastated to watch unmasked crowds singing and shouting at the Euro 2020 football final in London on Sunday (Jul 11), expressing concerns that it would spur COVID-19 transmission, including of the Delta variant.

Britain is facing a new wave of COVID-19 driven by the more transmissible variant despite having one of the world's highest vaccination rates. It plans to scrap most remaining anti-coronavirus restrictions on Jul 19, in a move that worries some scientists.

READ: Pandemic not over, British PM Boris Johnson warns as England set for COVID-19 rule easing

In unusually forthright comments from the United Nations health agency, which usually refrains from remarking on the policies of individual member states, its COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove called the sight of the more than 60,000 spectators at the match between Italy and England "devastating".

"Am I supposed to be enjoying watching transmission happening in front of my eyes?" she tweeted in the late stages of the match.

English supporters react watching the game during extra time at a fan zone in Manchester, England, Jul, 11, 2021 during the Euro 2020 soccer championship final match between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium in London. (Photo: AP/Rui Vieira)

"The #COVID19 pandemic is not taking a break tonight ... #SARSCoV2 #DeltaVariant will take advantage of unvaccinated people, in crowded settings, unmasked, screaming/shouting/singing. Devastating."

A day of alcohol-fuelled festivities had begun with rowdy scenes in central London and tens of thousands made their way to the national stadium for the game, with flares being let off in railway stations and singing on trains.

Italy supporters celebrate in Soho, London's West End, Jul 11, 2021, after Italy won the Euro 2020 football championship final match between England and Italy played at Wembley Stadium. (Photo: AP/Matt Dunham)
English fans kick and stand on a litter bin in Piccadilly Circus, London, after Italy beat England on penalties to win the UEFA Euro 2020 Final, Jul 12, 2021. (Photo: Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this month defended the decision to allow more than 60,000 people to attend the final, saying it was being hosted in a "careful and controlled manner with testing of everybody who goes there". He said vaccines have created a "considerable wall of immunity".

READ: Football - WHO Europe calls for better monitoring of Euro spectators

Globally, the rate of COVID-19 infection is rising. There were more than 2.6 million new cases last week, with Europe experiencing a sharp increase of 30 per cent, the WHO said in its latest epidemiological update.

More than 4 million people have died since the start of the pandemic.

The WHO's emergencies head Michael Ryan also urged countries last week to use extreme caution when lifting COVID-19 restrictions, so as "not to lose the gains you've made".

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Source: Reuters/dv

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