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Coronavirus: German football bosses set to decide fate of Bundesliga games

A month has now passed since the last football matches were played before packed stadiums in Europe, and the havoc wrought by the coronavirus pandemic means that nobody can say with any certainty when the sport might return.

Coronavirus: German football bosses set to decide fate of Bundesliga games
A warning sign at a football pitch in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

A crowd of 50,000 filled Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow on Thursday, March 12th to see Rangers lose 3-1 to Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League.

Other matches that night were played behind closed doors, or postponed altogether, as Italy announced its death toll from the virus had passed 1,000.

Fast forward 31 days and the figures make for grim reading throughout Europe, with Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom the worst hit. Countries across the continent are now weeks into restrictive lockdowns.

Nobody knows when sport will be allowed to restart behind closed doors let alone before crowds. The psychological impact of the current situation means many people may well now have second thoughts about mixing with vast crowds at a football match in future.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus forces first ever Bundesliga game behind closed doors

German football authorities are set to decide this week whether Bundesliga matches can resume behind closed doors next month, and players are already back in training.

Just 239 people would reportedly be allowed at each game, reports say, but resuming games would still require a significant testing operation.

“This must be possible,” Wolfgang Kubicki, vice president of Germany's Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, told Sky Sport.

“Especially if we can determine, by a quick test, that none of the players are infected and there is no danger of triggering a chain of infection.”

'Safe and appropriate'

In any case, as Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp admitted when the Premier League season was suspended on March 13th “Today, football and football matches really aren't important at all.”

Yet his club are among those who have been worst hit by the suspension, given that they stand on the brink of winning the English title for the first time in 30 years.

In England, authorities have said football will not return until it is “safe and appropriate” to do so.

READ ALSO: German Bundesliga suspended over coronavirus fears

However, UEFA has remained optimistic about the prospect of finishing the European seasons and is working on the possibility of playing in July and August if need be.

Aleksander Ceferin, the UEFA president, has also said there is “no way” runaway leaders Liverpool should be denied the Premier League title, and suggested that if the remaining matches cannot be played “we will need to find a way”.

Scrapping a season that was close to its conclusion would not make sense, but it remains to be seen if the campaign can resume.

An empty Borussia-Park stadium in Mönchengladbach. Photo: DPA

'Critical situation'

“No match, no competition, no league is worth risking a single human life,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said. “It would be more than irresponsible to force competitions to resume if things are not 100 percent safe.”

The damage caused by Covid-19 has been dramatic. Even players are not worrying about returning to action.

“It's not the thing I am worrying about. I am thinking about my family first and foremost and then about getting this sorted. This is a critical situation,” Paris Saint-Germain's Pablo Sarabia told AFP.

Leading football players and figures — from Juventus and France star Blaise Matuidi to Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta — have tested positive for the virus. Former Real Madrid president Lorenzo Sanz died.

Euro 2020 was postponed by a year, as was the Copa America.

Players at top sides have taken pay cuts, of 70 percent in the case of Barcelona.

There has been an unseemly dispute in England after UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock called for Premier League players to accept wage cuts.

Wealthy English clubs have also faced a backlash for tapping into a government scheme allowing them to furlough non-playing staff. Liverpool performed a U-turn and apologised for having applied.

Profound changes?

However, those wealthy clubs cannot afford to do without the income they get from broadcasters. That is at the core of their desperation to complete this season.

In England, the cost to Premier League clubs of having to reimburse broadcasters for matches not played has been put at 762 million pounds ($951 million).

While idle players are stuck at home, trying to follow fitness programmes in their front rooms or gardens, many wonder if football will be profoundly changed because of the financial impact of this crisis.

“The economy will be different and so will football. Maybe it will be better,” Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti told Italy's Corriere dello Sport.

That remains to be seen.

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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