March 11 may be a long time, but it’s only been six weeks. It’s hard to think about how much the world has changed since Liverpool ran to Anfield to face Atletico Madrid last time. It was a time when we could all come out and the last 16 UEFA Champions League ties were important moments in our lives.
At that time, the big point of discussion was the revival of the classic Atletico style, the masterclass at Simeoneism, which saw the Madrid team throw Liverpool out of Europe after extra time. Now, it seems ridiculous that, at the foot of the curve, the game is played at all.
According to yesterday’s comments from Angela McLean, deputy chief scientific adviser to the British government, the idea that playing the Champions League fixture at that time – especially games involving teams from Madrid, who were already in partial lockdown – might have contributed significantly to the spread of COVID-19 was “Interesting hypothesis”.
3,000 fans traveled from Madrid to Merseyside for matches, movements of people and potential operators who could be key in bringing the virus to England. “I am really sad to hear that so many people in Liverpool are not healthy and many have died,” McLean said. “I think it will be very interesting to see in the future when all the science is done about what relationships exist between viruses that have been circulating in Liverpool and viruses that have been circulating in Spain.
Health authorities in both Liverpool and Madrid have since described playing matches with fans, especially travel supporters, as mistakes. “Even though we will never know, the Atletico Madrid match can be one of the cultural events and meetings that affect the rise in Liverpool,” said Matthew Ashton, director of public health for the Liverpool City Council. “This is definitely one that is included in the list for study and for future investigation, so organizations can learn and not make similar mistakes.”
“It doesn’t make sense that 3,000 Atletico fans could travel to Anfield at that time,” said Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, mayor of Madrid. “That was a mistake.”
The idea of football as a channel for coronavirus has been widely discussed, especially with regard to the match played a week before the Liverpool-Atletico match, when Valencia traveled to Lombardy to face Atalanta in Milan. Game now quoted retrospectively as the so-called “superstar event” and 35% of Valencia employees who attended the match then tested positive.
Several events that occurred in the Liverpool match week are now seen as important in advancing the spread of the virus. 250,000 people attended the Cheltenham Festival horse race, while the British government was still giving counseling about mass event cancellations, while Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister who later found himself in intensive care suffering from COVID-19, attended the rugby union match between England and Wales on March 8.
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