Cancellations here in the United States of games, tournaments and entire athletics seasons in response to COVID-19 might have been disappointing for many, but evidence is emerging that those drastic measures likely saved lives.
The Washington Post this week reported that a packed soccer match in Milan was the source of one of the largest breakouts of the virus in Bergamo. The city of Bergamo is located in the Lombardy region of Italy, which was the hardest hit area in the country.
The source of the outbreak was a Feb. 19 Champions League contest that reportedly drew over 40,000 residents of Bergamo to nearby Milan to see their hometown squad, Atalanta, take on Spain’s Valencia.
The Post reports that the virus has swelled Bergamo’s local newspaper from the usual two or three pages to as many as 10 or 11. Intensive care units in the city have been overwhelmed with patients.
“Some 40,000 Bergamo inhabitants went to Milan to watch the game. Others watched it from their homes, in families, in groups, at the bar,” Bergamo mayor Giorgio Gori told Agence France-Presse. “It’s clear that evening was a situation in which the virus was widely spread.”
At the time of the match, few in Italy were aware of, or concerned with, the virus that was spreading quickly in China. However, within two weeks of the match, Bergamo was reporting a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.
Immunologist Francesco Le Foche said the timing of the match was key.
“The aggregation of thousands of people, centimeters from each other, engaging in manifestations of euphoria like hugging, shouting, all of that could’ve favored viral reciprocation,” Le Foche saida, via Goal. “I have to imagine many didn’t want to miss that game if they had tickets, even if they felt a slight fever.”
“We were mid-February, so we didn’t have the circumstances of what was happening,” Gori told the Associated Press. “If it’s true what they’re saying, that the virus was already circulating in Europe in January, then it’s very probable that 40,000 Bergamaschi in the stands of San Siro, all together, exchanged the virus between them. As is possible that so many Bergamaschi that night got together in houses, bars to watch the match and did the same. Unfortunately, we couldn’t have known. No one knew the virus was already here. It was inevitable.”