Soccer-Hungary, UEFA taking big risk having fans at Super Cup final says health expert

Credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer

By Krisztina Fenyo and Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Organisers run a huge risk by allowing 20,000 fans to attend a major football match, Thursday's UEFA Super Cup final in Budapest, for the first time since the new coronavirus outbreak, a leading Hungarian epidemiologist has told Reuters.

European soccer's governing body UEFA normally kicks off the season with the Super Cup match between the Champions League and Europa League winners and said it would see how the game with spectators works in Hungary's capital. .

The new Puskas Arena, a recently completed pet project of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an avid soccer fan, will be up to one-third full for the showdown between European champions Bayern Munich and Europa League title holders Sevilla, and UEFA has said all safety precautions would be observed.

However, Andras Csilek, who advises the Hungarian Medical Chamber, said in an interview with Reuters that the game's timing "could not be worse" as the pandemic's second wave grows around Europe, topping 600 new cases a day in Hungary.

"It would have had the same terrible effect in the first two to four weeks (of the pandemic), and the plausible effects one can now expect are equally terrible," Csilek said. "Just think of the football games we know sparked spring madness in Italy."

Experts have traced a surge in Italy's COVID-19 infections to February soccer matches and the Venice Carnival, he added.

"Placing the fans in a stadium... (separation) is not really feasible, especially as fans gather before and after games... Public transit, entry crowds, finding your seats, toilets, beer stands, celebrations, or a fight: plausible infection points."

Hungary's government is trying to "keep the country going" to avoid an economic disaster while containing the virus, the country's nationalist leader Orban has said.

"Super Cup match measures will be so strict that it will be safer to attend than almost any other social gathering," Orban's chief of staff Gergely Gulyas told broadcaster ATV on Monday.

European countries, including Germany, have placed Hungary on a watch list as coronavirus cases rise, and Bavarian premier Markus Soeder has warned fans to stay away from Budapest.

"Nobody knows where this leads, but if it is an experiment, that is wrong," Csilek said. "You don't experiment with people."

(Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by Ken Ferris)

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