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‘Don’t show up at the stadium’: German fans warned ahead of Bundesliga restart

The Bundesliga returns on Saturday in empty stadiums, but German fans are being warned to stay away and authorities have warned matches could be halted if too many supporters gather outside the grounds.

'Don't show up at the stadium': German fans warned ahead of Bundesliga restart
Cardboard cutouts of Mönchengladbach fans at Borussia-Park on April 29th. Fans hope it can help build a better atmosphere for ghost games played when the Bundesliga kicks off again. Photo: DPA

German football will be blazing a trail among Europe's top leagues by resuming two months after it was halted by the spread of coronavirus, but its strategy is fraught with risks.

In a football-mad country which boasts the highest average attendances in the world, will supporters banished from stadiums be able to stay away?

In Saxony, where third-placed RB Leipzig will host mid-table Freiburg on Saturday afternoon, the state's Interior Minister Roland Woeller has issued a clear threat.

“Fans must not use matches behind closed doors as an excuse to gather in front of the stadiums or elsewhere,” he said.

“This could lead to matches being stopped.”

READ ALSO: Bundesliga: Germany to restart football with 'ghost games'

His concerns are justified.

Several hundred fans gathered in Mönchengladbach when the hosts beat 2-1 Cologne on March 11th – the only previous German league game played behind locked doors, just days before the shutdown.

Eintracht Frankfurt have appealed to their supporters before they resume their season against 'Gladbach on Saturday.

“We've talked a lot with our fans and said: 'listen guys, don't show up at the stadium',” Frankfurt's sports director Fredi Bobic told ESPN.

Under German league rules put in place to resume the season, the home side is responsible for ensuring fans do not try to approach the stadium to support their team from a distance.

After weeks of meticulous planning and mass testing of players and backroom staff, it would be a nightmare for the Bundesliga if the fans were to derail the fragile recovery attempt.

Fans in Mönchengladbach wearing ghost costumes on March 11th and holding a sign that says: 'Ghost games, we want in.' Photo: DPA

Christian Seifert, CEO of the Bundesliga, does not expect fans to play into the hands of critics who fear they will mass outside grounds despite large public events being banned in Germany.

Seifert accused the critics predicting that football fans would fail to respect the pleas for restraint of making “sweeping statements”.

“I don't believe that the fan scene and the fan organisations will do their critics… the favour of behaving in exactly the way” that those doomsayers fear, he said.

The Bundesliga boss said all the talks he had held on the issue “do not give any indication” that supporters will gather.

READ ALSO: German Bundesliga starts testing players for coronavirus amid restart hopes

Broadcaster Sky has agreed to show some of Saturday's matches on a free-to-air channel, allaying fears that fans will gather in bars or public places which have a subscription for the pay-per-view service.

Historic first

However, Seifert says while they are taking every reasonable step to discourage fans from meeting up, “the DFL's responsibility ends at a certain point”.

The centrepiece of Saturday's return to action is Borussia Dortmund at home to Schalke in the Ruhr derby, a match which would usually draw a crowd of 82,000 to Signal Iduna Park.

Instead, it will be the first time this fixture is played behind closed doors since it began in 1925.

Germany's huge stadiums – for example Bayern Munich's enormous Allianz Arena holds 75,000 – will remain empty for the forseeable future.

There are fears in the German football scene that the 'Ultras' — hardcore fans who often lead the chanting at matches — will lose their hard-earned influence at their clubs.

Some groups of these hardcore supporters are opposed to games being played in empty stadiums, because they feel the initiative is driven by financial reasons.

The clubs are eager to finish the league season before June 30th in order to collect around €300 million ($324 million) due from TV contracts.

Helen Breit from the nationwide football supporters group “Unsere Kurve” (Our Curve) said she refused to watch a single match without fans on television.

“For me, football is in the stadiums,” she told Munich-based paper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

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

“I've been going to almost every Freiburg match for more than ten years and watching football on TV is not an option for me.”

Football is 'sick'

Another group feels the resumption of football during a pandemic, which has claimed 7,500 lives in Germany, shows how “sick” professional football has become.

“A continuation of the season would be sheer mockery of the rest of society,”  Ultras groups across Germany said in a joint statement last month.

“Professional football is sick enough and should remain in quarantine.”

But for the vast majority of fans, the decision to play the nine remaining round of matches behind closed doors makes the best of a bad situation.

Even if the fans cannot be in the stands in person, Moenchengladbach have found a novel way of allowing them to be seen by the players — for €19 euros, Gladbach fans can buy a cardboard cut-out of themselves which will be placed on the terraces of Borussia Stadium.

By Christophe Beauduff

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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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