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Did this football match lead to coronavirus spread in Italy?

March 27, 2020 12:33 IST
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'Some 40,000 Bergamo inhabitants went to Milan to watch the game. Others watched it from their homes, in families, in groups, at the bar. For sure, that night there was a strong escalation of contagion between people.'

IMAGE: Atalanta fans during their UEFA Champions League match against Valencia at the San Siro stadium in Milan, on Feburary 19, 2020. Photograph: Daniele Mascolo/Reuters

The rapid outbreak of coronavirus pandemic across Italy has been linked to the UEFA Champions League match between Italian club Atalanta and Spain's Valencia at the San Siro stadium in Milan on Feburary 19.

 

The first cases of the virus were reported in northern Italy in the week that Atalanta enjoyed one of the finest nights in their history, beating visitors Valencia 4-1 in the Champions League last-16, first-leg match.

Over 40,000 residents of Bergamo made the trip to Milan to see their home team Atalanta play in Europe's most prestigious football competition.

Bergamo is the most badly affected city in Italy by the coronavirus epidemic, with more than 6,700 confirmed cases.

IMAGE: Mayor Giorgio Gori said the Champions League match in Milan, attended by around 40,000 fans, was a major factor in the spread of the virus in the nearby city of Bergamo. Photograph: Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

More than 8,000 people have died in Italy from coronavirus, while there have been more than 80,000 confirmed cases in Europe’s worst-hit country. Italy’s Serie A football league has been suspended since March 9.

In Lombardy’s northeastern city of Bergamo, 134 family doctors out of 600 -- or 22 percent -- have fallen sick or been quarantined, Guido Marinoni, the head of the local association of general practitioners, according to Reuters.

Pointing out that many fans used public transport while travelling together from Bergamo to watch the match, the head of pulmonology at a Bergamo hospital recently described the Champions League match as "a biological bomb".

Mayor Giorgio Gori said the Champions League match in Milan, attended by around 40,000 fans, was a major factor in the spread of the virus in the nearby city of Bergamo.

“Some 40,000 Bergamo inhabitants went to Milan to watch the game. Others watched it from their homes, in families, in groups, at the bar,” the Bergamo mayor told reporters earlier this week. “For sure, that night there was a strong escalation of contagion between people.”

Earlier this week, Atalanta goalkeeper Marco Sportiello has tested positive for coronavirus, taking the number of confirmed cases among players in Italy’s top soccer league Serie A to 15.

Spanish La Liga club Valencia last week said that more than a third of their players and coaching staff have tested positive for the virus since their trip to Italy.

There are three confirmed cases at Italian champions Juventus — Paulo Dybala, Blaise Matuidi and Daniele Rugani —while three players at Fiorentina, one at Hellas Verona, one at AC Milan and six at Sampdoria have also tested positive.

Atalanta captain Alejandro Gomez has said people in his team’s home of Bergamo are taking the virus lightly and making using any excuse to try to evade a lockdown.

IMAGE: Atalanta players celebrate winning their against Valencia at the San Siro stadium in Milan, on Feburary 19, 2020. Photograph: Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Under a government decree, residents are allowed out to go to the supermarket or to work, or to briefly walk their dog, but Gomez said those rules had been stretched to the limit by many.

Solitary outside exercise is allowed if people stay in the immediate vicinity of their home.

“There are still people on the streets,” Gomez said in an interview with the sports daily Ole which is based in his native Argentina.

“There are those who go for a run, those who go to the park to do sit-ups, those who take the dog out and spend an hour walking around because they are bored at home or those who lie about going to the supermarket.

“I don’t go out running, even though I’m a sportsman and it’s my job.”

“I think there was a lot of misinformation at the beginning and we all took it very lightly. We thought it was just another flu, a virus like any that comes around in the winter, so we kept on living a normal life,” Gomez said.

“The other day, the military came to take the crates with the dead and cremate them somewhere else because there’s no more room in the cemeteries here. It’s incredible. Every morning I get up to watch the news and it’s always bad.”

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