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Germany’s Bundesliga allowed to start season at 20 percent fan capacity

Limited numbers of spectators can return to Germany's football stadiums when the new Bundesliga season kicks off this weekend after a six-week test phase was agreed Tuesday.

Germany's Bundesliga allowed to start season at 20 percent fan capacity
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

Germany's politicians are allowing each stadium to be at 20 percent capacity for the Bundesliga's 18 clubs, providing the seven-day rate of infection of the coronavirus is lower or equal to 35 per 100,000 inhabitants in the local region.

That means around 15,000 fans could now watch title holders Bayern Munich start the new season on Friday at home to Schalke 04 at the Allianz Arena.

READ ALSO: German football fans hopes dampened as coronavirus cases rise

Fans must wear face masks and stay 1.5m apart, while alcohol is banned and away supporters are not allowed.

“Sports events thrive on fans' support and atmosphere with an audience – this applies to Bundesliga games as well as to amateur sports,” said Armin Laschet, state premier for Germany's football hotbed North-Rhine Westphalia.

There was already a test run in the first round of the German Cup last weekend.

A set number of fans were allowed into each ground with the numbers varying due to the different health authorities' regulations from region to region.

Following a two-month hiatus after the coronavirus pandemic hit Germany in March, the Bundesliga became the first of Europe's top leagues to resume in mid-May behind closed doors.

The last German league game played in front of fans was on March 8th.

Germany's top flight clubs lose several million euros in lost match revenue for every home game played behind closed doors.

In August, the Marburger Bund, the association and trade union for doctors in Germany, also warned against a return of fans to the stadiums.

READ ALSO: Bundesliga: How Germany plans for football fans to return to stadium in September

“The danger of a mass infection would be real,” chairperson Susanne Johna told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper.

“If we are unlucky, a 'superspreader' would sit among the fans and the virus will spread like wildfire.

“Someone may not have any symptoms at all yet, but still his throat is already full of the virus.

“And with the shouting and cheering (at a game), it (further infections) can happen in a flash.”

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COVID-19

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.

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