Last week, Italy moved past China in the number of recorded coronavirus cases. At the current 7,503 deaths, the Mediterranean country has over 3, 719 fatalities more than China (3,281) even though it has a population of 60 million, about half the size of Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus broke off from.
The number leaped with alarming speed in March, with Italians being responsible for the transmission of the pandemic to some other countries. Africa appeared safe in the beginning until recently when the number of infected persons in the continent started rising.
In Europe, Italy and Spain are the most infected countries with rising rates surmounting Chinese records. The speed of the spread in Europe has baffled scientists and health workers; some have attributed it to governments’ lax attitude in initiating a lockdown early enough in European countries. But there is more to it that’s just coming to light.
Scientists believe that the reason could be traced back to February when Atlanta hosted Valencia for a Champions League match. Thousands of fans gathered in the city of Bergamo from across Europe but especially Italy and Spain to view the match. Atlanta won Valencia 4-1 and both Italy and shared maximum impact of coronavirus as it spread through fans to the respective countries.
Both Italy and Spain have more than 80, 000 cases of infection with death toll surpassing 11,000. Bergamo is the most infected city in Europe with over 5,000 cases and 1,000 deaths. The city was reportedly conducting burials every 30 minutes, and army trucks are being used to convey dead bodies to the cemeteries.
Immunologist professor Francesco Le Foche said the surge must have been triggered by football activity as the outbreak was gaining ground in Europe.
“It’s probably that there were several major triggers and catalysts for the diffusion of the virus. The Atlanta-Valencia game could very well have been one of them. It was the apex of collective euphoria in a unique football season for this club,” said Foche.
Football bodies in Europe took a long time contemplating whether to suspend matches, and with the games holding thousands of fans at a time, the room for escalation widened. Given the period of the Atlanta-Valencia match, the time is right for the virus to unleash its venom.
“A month has passed since that match, so the timing is pertinent. The aggregation of thousands of people, centimeters from each other, engaging in manifestations of euphoria like hugging, shouting, all of that could’ve favored viral reciprocation.
“I have to imagine many didn’t want to miss that game if they had tickets, even if they felt a slight fever. With hindsight, it was madness to play with a crowd present, but at the time things weren’t clear enough. It’d be unthinkable now,” Foche added.
In February, coronavirus was still considered by many as a disease peculiar to the Chinese people and will be prevented before it gets to some parts of the world, Europe included. It unfortunately happened to be a misconception of COVID-19 that Italy and Spain are paying dearly for.
The Mayor of Bergamo Giorgio Gori said in an interview with Marca that the Atlanta-Valencia game “was a biological bomb” that its detonation took Europe by storm.
“At that time we did not know what was happening. The first patient in Italy was on 23 February. If the virus was already circulating, the 40,000 fans who went to the San Siro Stadium were infected. No one knew that the virus was already circulating among us. Many watched the game in groups and there were many contacts that night. The virus passed from one another,” Gori said.
On March 16, Valencia announced that 35% of the squad that traveled to Italy tested positive. The club returned to Spain with each one, from the squad to fans, having a touch of coronavirus.
The whole of Europe is at the mercy of the pandemic as every nation in the continent is battling to curtail the increasing number of cases and deaths by minute. Football has been fingered as the major cause of the escalation following the government’s insouciant attitude.
The UK is another place taking a major hit right now, and the escalation is also attributed to football activities. It was until coaches and players started testing positive for coronavirus that the Football Association saw the need to suspend matches. It is believed that the spread has been aided by a crowd of spectators who recklessly mingled when they should be distancing.