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FOOTBALL

German Bundesliga restart draws global audiences as players reminded to keep distance

The Bundesliga drew bumper global audiences for its restart at the weekend behind closed doors, but a top league official said the players will be reminded to maintain social distancing even during goal celebrations.

Germany's top-flight became the first top European league to resume after a two-month hiatus, behind closed doors and surrounded by draconian hygiene measures.

But despite the restrictions, the weekend's matches passed off without problems.

READ ALSO: All eyes on Germany as Bundesliga football returns

Players and staff were regularly tested for the COVID-19 virus in the weeks before the games, while the small number of accredited officials and media members had their temperatures checked before being allowed into stadiums.

Police fears that fans would gather outside the grounds did not materialise.

“There was a big sense of relief,” the CEO of the international arm of the Bundesliga, Robert Klein, told AFP and other media Monday.

“We want to finish the season, but are aware there is a big responsibility that we do this correctly.

“There was an enthusiasm to see top-flight football again.

“Someone said to me, 'it looks like the eyes of the world are on the Bundesliga' and I think that was true.

“We were trending in Colombia, Ghana, South Africa and Asia.”

'Rollercoaster'

Borussia Dortmund's Norwegian striker Erling Braut Haaland showed he had lost nothing of his power in the two-month hiatus as he scored the first goal of Saturday's restart in the 4-0 hammering of rivals Schalke.

Pay-per-view broadcaster Sky reported a record audience of six million
viewers in Germany for Saturday's matches, after making some matches available for free.

The overall global figure is expected later this week.

With fans currently starved of live football due to the pandemic, the viewing figures recorded for the Dortmund v Schalke match in football-mad Mexico, Brazil, Italy and Argentina were far higher than normal.

In the UK, broadcaster BT Sports had a peak figure of 652,000 for that same match — a respectable figure when compared with the channel's best-ever Premier League audience of 1.7 million for a Liverpool v Arsenal match in December 2018.

Klein described the last few weeks as “exhilarating, challenging… a rollercoaster” as the league got the detailed restart plans approved by the German government.

There were, however, a few glitches on Saturday.

Markus Söder, the leader of the state of Bavaria, criticised Hertha Berlin's players for hugging to celebrate goals in their 3-0 win at Hoffenheim.

There were also hugs and handshakes in some other matches, breaching hygiene guidelines which the clubs have agreed to.

The German Football League (DFL) say those concerned will not be sanctioned, but Klein said the message will be reinforced.

“In the hygiene concept, there is a guideline to celebrate within the social distancing norms,” Klein said.

“One can imagine” he added, that in the heat of the moment, for example “a goal being scored, that maybe sometimes they will get closer.

“I think the guidelines were generally well respected at the weekend.

“They are there for the clubs to implement. I am speaking to the clubs day in, day out to remind them of what needs to be done so we have the right to go to a second or third matchday.”

Following Bayern Munich's 2-0 win at Union Berlin on Sunday, Thomas Müller reminded his fellow pros of their duty as role models: “I think we are now more strictly under observation than the rest of Germany.”

'Happy to share'

The sight of elbow-bump celebrations, substitutes wearing face masks on the bench and hearing players calls echoing around empty terraces will take some getting used to.

“I think it will be the new normal for a while, until the end of the season it will be without fans and it's possible that will go into next season,” said Klein.

“Until COVID is seriously under control – and that will probably only be when a vaccine comes – it will continue to be the case.”

The Dutch league, which already curtailed its 2019-2020 season, wants to use the Bundesliga's restart plans for next season.

The head of the Spanish league has also described Germany as “an example to follow” and Klein says the Bundesliga is happy to help other professional leagues.

“We're happy to share not only the medical protocol, but also the wider work in being able to get the support of local authorities and government to implement it,” said Klein.

“It's a holistic approach which is required and without all parties coming to the table, it's not possible.”

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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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