How one soccer game contributed to the spread of coronavirus in Italy


ROME (AP) — It was the most important soccer recreation in Atalanta’s historical past and a 3rd of Bergamo’s inhabitants made the quick journey to Milan’s famed San Siro Stadium.

Nearly 2,500 followers of visiting Spanish membership Valencia additionally traveled to that Champions League match.

More than a month later, specialists are pointing to the Feb. 19 recreation as one of many largest the reason why Bergamo has turn out to be one of many epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic — a “biological bomb” was the best way one respiratory specialist put it — and why 35% of Valencia’s crew turned contaminated.

The match, which native media have dubbed “Game Zero,” was held two days earlier than the primary case of regionally transmitted COVID-19 was confirmed in Italy.

“We were mid-February so we didn’t have the circumstances of what was happening,” Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori mentioned this week throughout a dwell Facebook chat with the Foreign Press Association in Rome. “If it’s true what they’re saying that the virus was already circulating in Europe in January, then it’s very probable that 40,000 Bergamaschi in the stands of San Siro, all together, exchanged the virus between them. As is possible that so many Bergamaschi that night got together in houses, bars to watch the match and did the same.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t have known. No one knew the virus was already here,” the mayor added. “It was inevitable.”

Less than every week after the sport, the primary circumstances have been reported within the province of Bergamo.

At about the identical time in Valencia, a journalist who traveled to the match turned the second particular person contaminated within the area, and it didn’t take lengthy earlier than individuals who have been in touch with him additionally had the virus, as did Valencia followers who have been on the recreation.

While Atalanta introduced its first optimistic case Tuesday for goalkeeper Marco Sportiello, Valencia mentioned greater than a 3rd of its squad received contaminated, “despite the strict measures adopted by the club” after the match in Milan.

As of Tuesday, practically 7,000 individuals within the province of Bergamo had examined optimistic for COVID-19 and greater than 1,000 individuals had died from the virus — making Bergamo essentially the most lethal province in all of Italy for the pandemic. The Valencia area had greater than 2,600 individuals contaminated.

Luca Lorini, the top of the intensive care unit on the Pope John XXIII hospital in Bergamo, presently has 88 sufferers beneath his care with the coronavirus; not together with many extra in different elements of the hospital.

“I’m sure that 40,000 people hugging and kissing each other while standing a centimeter apart — four times, because Atalanta scored four goals (the final result was 4-1) — was definitely a huge accelerator for contagion,” Lorini advised The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“Right now we’re at war. When peace time comes, I can assure you we will go and see how many of the 40,000 people who went to the game became infected,” Lorini added. “Right now we have other priorities.”

Silvio Brusaferro, the top of Italy’s Superior Institute of Health, mentioned over the weekend on the nightly nationally televised briefing by the civil safety company that the sport was “one of the hypotheses” being evaluated as a supply of the disaster in Bergamo.

“It’s certainly an analysis that can be made,” Brusaferro mentioned.

By final week, Bergamo’s cemetery turned so overwhelmed by the variety of useless that army vehicles started transporting our bodies to a neighboring area for cremation.

Italy remained the European nation with essentially the most circumstances, practically 70,000, and with nearly 7,000 deaths — essentially the most worldwide and greater than twice as many as China.

Spain is the subsequent nation in Europe with essentially the most circumstances, practically 48,000, and it has surpassed China within the variety of deaths with greater than 3,400.

More than 435,000 individuals worldwide have been contaminated and the variety of useless closed in on 20,000, in response to the operating rely saved by Johns Hopkins University. Overall, greater than 100,000 have recovered.

For most individuals, the brand new coronavirus causes delicate or average signs, reminiscent of fever and cough that clear up in two to 3 weeks. For some, particularly older adults and folks with present well being issues, it may well trigger extra extreme sickness, together with pneumonia and loss of life.

The official attendance for the Feb. 19 recreation was 45,792 — a “home” report for Atalanta, a small membership making its debut in Europe’s high membership competitors.

Atalanta captain Alejandro “Papu” Gómez advised Argentine each day Olé it was “terrible” to have performed that recreation.

“It’s a city of 120,000 people and that day (40,000) went to the San Siro,” the Argentine mentioned. “It was a historic match for Atalanta, something unique. To give you an idea, my wife took three hours to get to Milan, when that trip normally takes 40 minutes.”

The recreation was performed in Milan as a result of Atalanta’s stadium in Bergamo didn’t meet the necessities set by European soccer governing physique UEFA.

Before the match, Valencia followers freely roamed round Milan and gathered at among the metropolis’s plazas, together with the Piazza del Duomo, ingesting and chanting crew songs.

Looking again, the circumstances for virus contagion have been excessive, with hundreds of individuals gathering with out a lot concern — at a time when the outbreak in Europe wasn’t but identified — after which touring again dwelling. Nearly 30 busloads of followers made the 60-kilometer (37-mile) journey from Bergamo to Milan.

The night earlier than the match, there was no social distancing as officers from each golf equipment mingled and exchanged presents and handshakes at a gala dinner supplied by Atalanta.

“I have heard a lot (of theories), I’ll say mine: Feb. 19, 40,000 Bergamaschi went to San Siro for Atalanta-Valencia,” Fabiano di Marco, the chief pneumologist on the hospital in Bergamo, advised Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “In buses, cars, trains. A biological bomb, unfortunately.”

Valencia defender Ezequiel Garay was the primary Spanish league participant to check optimistic for COVID-19. The crew performed a Spanish league recreation towards Alavés about two weeks after the sport in Milan, and later Alavés reported that 15 individuals within the membership have been contaminated, although it didn’t say the circumstances have been instantly associated to the match towards Valencia.

Italian soccer gamers’ affiliation president Damiano Tommasi believes sports activities authorities ought to look lengthy and exhausting on the Atalanta match earlier than restarting leagues.

“Look at what’s happening in China, where players are testing positive for the coronavirus now — despite all the safety rules and precautions being taken,” Tommasi advised the AP, referring to a current optimistic check for former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini with Chinese membership Shandong Lunen.

Fellaini’s optimistic check was alarming as a result of, whereas the outbreak started spreading in China, the virus has reportedly been receding there.

“It’s not going to be enough to just test the athletes,” Tommasi added. “The entire setting needs to be safe. Because if one team is stuck, it blocks the entire system.”

After successful the primary leg, Atalanta superior to the Champions League quarterfinals following one other victory within the second leg on March 10, which was performed in an empty Mestalla Stadium in Valencia after Spanish authorities prohibited video games involving groups from northern Italy to be performed with followers. Just a few thousand Valencia supporters gathered on the Mestalla to welcome the crew, although, and to look at the match collectively in close by bars and eating places.

Over the previous month, Atalanta has mourned the deaths of 5 former employees members. While bulletins on the membership web site made no point out of the virus, native media have reported that not less than 4 of them died with COVID-19.

Still, just one optimistic check from Atalanta has been introduced.

“Some squads have chosen not to test their players unless they show symptoms,” Tommasi mentioned. “Other squads tested everyone. These are individual choices.

“The head of the civil protection agency has talked about the likelihood that for every proven positive case there are probably 10 actual positives. … The high number of positives at Valencia makes you wonder.”

With the Champions League suspended due to the pandemic, Atalanta has no thought when it’d play within the quarterfinals — which once more could be the membership’s largest recreation in its historical past. In the meantime, each the Bergamo crew and Valencia are left questioning concerning the unexpected results of their match in February.

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