UK authorities warned of large gatherings ahead of the Euro 2020 football final, fearing the highly transmissible strain of the Delta coronavirus that has fueled outbreaks around the world.
Many countries have been forced to reintroduce the curbs in their fight against outbreaks accelerated by the variant — first discovered in India — while also trying to ramp up vaccinations to reopen their economies.
London will host more than 60,000 fans at Wembley Stadium on Sunday for the final of the virus-delayed Euro 2020 championship, the largest crowd at a British football stadium since the start of the pandemic, as England take on Italy.
Authorities are particularly concerned about the risk of large gatherings in fan zones and pubs across England to see the country’s first appearance in a major football final in more than half a century.
“London is still in a public health crisis,” Laurence Taylor, deputy deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said on Saturday, urging people to keep their distance.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated that he plans to relax all remaining restrictions in England on July 19, but the number of infections is rising again across Britain – powered by the Delta variant.
His administration has argued that since more than 85 percent of adults have received at least one injection, the link between infections, hospitalizations and deaths has been broken.
But many scientists are very uncomfortable with easing any remaining rules, including social distancing and the legal requirement to wear masks on public transport and in indoor areas.
As England’s players left their base in St George’s Park on Saturday, a large contingent of cheering fans lined the road, hardly any of them seen wearing masks in videos and photos tweeted by the team.
Health experts have expressed concern about Euro 2020 events becoming super-spread throughout the tournament, especially in Britain and Russia due to the Delta variant.
“It is possible, probably even, that regions that have been very little affected in the UK will be infected by supporters returning from London,” Antoine Flahault told AFP ahead of the final.
Authorities in Denmark, Finland and Scotland have already reported infections among fans after attending European Championship matches.
‘Worse, much worse’
The known global death toll from Covid-19 has surpassed four million, with the fight made more difficult by the emergence of variants that have accelerated outbreaks even in countries that had successfully weathered the early phases of the pandemic.
Australia, which has recently reinstated restrictions in a number of cities, announced its first virus-related death in the Sydney outbreak on Sunday.
It came as authorities warned that the situation in Sydney was expected to worsen, with Australia’s largest city in its third week of lockdown and the population overwhelmingly unvaccinated.
“Tomorrow and the next few days will be worse, much worse than we’ve seen today,” said Gladys Berejiklian, prime minister of the state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital.
South Korea, once a model for the response to Covid-19, was set to tighten restrictions in and around the capital Seoul from Monday after new daily infections hit their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the number of cases has risen dramatically in a number of countries, with Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam imposing new restrictions.
The rapid spread of the Delta variant across Asia, Africa and Latin America exposes critical vaccine shortages for some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.
It’s also a major hurdle for economies hoping to get back on track after being hammered by the pandemic.
“We are very concerned about the Delta variant and other variants that could emerge and threaten the recovery,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Sunday after a G20 meeting in Venice, Italy.
“We are a connected global economy. What happens in one part of the world affects all other countries.”
It is expected that the less privileged parts of the world will suffer that economic hit the most.
That impact was sharp in Guatemala’s indigenous town of San Martin Jilotepeque, where shops were closed and streets deserted as some 90,000 residents were locked up from Thursday to Sunday to contain the spread of the virus.
For the people of the city, the short restrictions did not come without a cost.
“We have to pay, rent and support children,” says resident Bartolome Chocoj.
“If we don’t die from Covid, we will starve to death.”