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Dortmund chief argues against football behind closed doors

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has criticised the decision to put Bundesliga matches back behind closed doors due to high numbers of Covid-19 in Germany.

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke (L), wearing a face mask, watches a German Bundesliga football match
Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke (L), wearing a face mask, watches a German Bundesliga football match in 2020. Bundesliga games must be played without spectators currently. Michael Sohn / POOL / AFP

Last month, the government ordered Bundesliga games to be played without spectators to try to curb the spread of the virus.

READ ALSO: Covid infections rise in Germany as Omicron spreads

Dortmund are second in the Bundesliga table behind Bayern Munich.

Matches in Germany’s top flight resume Friday in front of empty terraces after a two-week winter break, but Watzke argued for allowing small numbers of fans to return.

“I am not interested in now filling up stadiums, that would be completely the wrong signal to send,” Watzke told magazine Der Spiegel.

“But I think 10 per cent of the stadium capacity would be appropriate.”

Dortmund’s impressive Signal Iduna Park stadium can hold 80,000 and Watzke wants to see it “even 10 per cent” full.

“Eight thousand spectators could be distributed in such a way that they have virtually nothing to do with each other physically,” Watzke said.

“With 8,000 spectators at our stadium, the risk of infection would be low, and to be honest, everyone knows that.”

Watzke says each Dortmund home game behind closed doors costs the club four million euros ($4.5 million) in lost matchday revenue, calling it “hardly economically viable”.

He warns that some German football clubs may be forced out of business unless fans are allowed to return soon.

“This will kill off an entire industry,” said Watzke, the new chairman of the German Football League (DFL) supervisory board.

“In addition, the connection between the club and its fans will be destroyed to a large extent.

“Some of the spectators will not come back.

“As a result, we will have even bigger problems in five or 10 years.”

Watzke also echoed the sentiments of Union Berlin president Dirk Zingler by suggesting “football is being used for symbolic politics” in the fight against the virus.

“Explain to me why music halls can be filled twice a day with 750 people, at 45 per cent capacity, but no spectators are allowed in big open-air stadiums,” he asked.

“It does make you feel a bit let down.”

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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