This was the response of the government’s Deputy Chief Science Advisor, Angela McLean, when ECHO asked if the decision to allow 3,000 Atletico Madrid fans to travel to watch the Liverpool game on March 11 could have been contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.
Professor McLean’s response sparked a strong reaction, with some commentators suggesting that it was the closest we could admit to a mistake in the daily press briefings on Downing Street.
We are so used to government ministers rejecting criticism that it was surprising to see Professor McLean even accept this suggestion.
Concerns have been raised in Liverpool over the impact the Champions League match on March 11 may have had on the city’s coronavirus epidemic.
More than 280 people died in hospitals in Liverpool, more than 700 in Merseyside in total – and a number of Reds fans have told us they think they fell ill at the time.
Madrid’s mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida and the new director of public health for the Liverpool Council, Matt Ashton, have been among those who have since said that the decision to proceed as usual was a mistake.
And this week, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson instructed his new public health boss to conduct a full investigation with city universities to see if a link could be made between the two.
Concerns about the match existed before it was played, with local politicians responding to concerns from fans and voters by wondering why 3,000 Madrid fans were encouraged to travel through many international transportation hubs to get from time in Liverpool’s pubs, bars and Anfield – when they weren’t allowed to watch their team’s home games at the time due to lockdowns.
Garston and Halewood MPP Maria Eagle even questioned Secretary of Health Matt Hancock in Parliament that night.
Daily Mirror football correspondent David Maddock also expressed concern, calling the move “crazy” and suggesting that Liverpool FC were decidedly nervous about it.
Spain had reported 1,646 cases of the virus at the time – including 782 from the capital, where 35 people had already died – mass gatherings had been banned in an attempt to slow the spread of the Spanish epidemic.
On match day, ECHO tried to get answers from the UEFA Champions League organizers and the government about why the match was going on – the two said the other was responsible and none of them replied to us with a statement.
The match was played, of course, with the Spanish team winning 3-2 in the second leg in front of a crowd of Anfields.
Liverpool and Merseyside have been hard hit by the coronavirus, with an infection rate higher than the national average – and Liverpool has recorded more cases and deaths than cities of similar size like Manchester.
It is virtually impossible to know if there is a direct link between the match and our current situation – the much-maligned defamation of tests and contact tracing in the UK means that we will probably never have a definitive answer .
Former director of public health John Ashton, a Liverpool fan who skipped the match that night, previously said that the timing of the Liverpool death toll is part of a timeline that suggests that more people in the city may have been infected around March 11.
Who made the decision?
As infections and deaths increase, people naturally want to know why the match was allowed, who was behind the decision and who should ultimately be held accountable.
We asked all of the different potentially involved bodies their sides of the story.
Liverpool Council and Mayor Joe Anderson
A frank and sometimes divisive character in the city, many of Anderson’s detractors want to blame the March 11 game that takes place at his door.
A person located and shared a video clip of the mayor speaking at a council meeting the week before the match, where it can be heard saying, “We have nothing to fear excessively, but if there is necessary to stop events like this happening in the city to protect public health, then we will. ”
In reality, it seems unlikely that the Liverpool Council could have gotten carried away and disconnected from a major Champions League match taking place in the city, especially when the government recommended that such events continue.
So why did Mayor Anderson say that?
Speaking to ECHO this week, he said, “If you watch this video, it doesn’t show the whole story, I was saying if the authorities allowed us to stop the mass rallies and we thought it was the right one call then we would. ”
This idea appears to be supported by comments by the mayor around the same time on the issue of mass rallies, where he said, “Obviously, we will carefully consider the advice of the government following the COBRA meeting.
“We expect there will be advice on a range of issues, including whether schools may need to close or whether large public events in the city may be affected and how we are handling this. “
Mayor Anderson said the reasons for the match were to come from the British government and UEFA.
He added: “I could not prevent the planes from flying to John Lennon airport full of Spanish fans, the government and UEFA were aware of the situation in Spain, where the matches were played behind closed doors – so why did they let it go ahead?
“I think it is very likely that it has increased the spread of the disease in this city – we need answers to find out who made this decision and why.” “
And he hopes the investigation the Council’s public health team will now conduct will give a firm indication as to whether the decision to host the match may have added to the city’s outbreak in the cases and the number of death which unfortunately increases.
Liverpool Football Club
As journalist David Maddock suggested, the club was believed to be nervous at the time of the match – but believed the decision was in the hands of the government and UEFA.
A statement issued by the club on match day made it clear that it was following national guidelines.
They said: “Liverpool Football Club continues to monitor and apply government advice on the coronavirus epidemic and before our Champions League match against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday evening we remind everyone who is present at the match good hygiene practices.
“We will continue to follow the best advice of the relevant authorities and keep supporters informed of any new developments. “
ECHO understands that Liverpool FC has informed city council that it will cooperate fully with the public health team’s investigation.
UEFA is the organizer of the Champions League – the elite European football competition in which the Reds played on March 11.
ECHO attempted to contact the European football organization on match day, but received no official response.
But UEFA has now responded by making it clear who they think is ultimately responsible for the match, should be played out the way it did.
Responding to our questions, a spokesperson said: “We would like to inform you that any decision taken by UEFA which led to the postponement or conduct of matches behind closed doors has been taken in close collaboration with, and on the basis of decisions taken by the national concerned competent authorities of the respective host countries.
“UEFA has received no advice or request from the local authorities to play the match behind closed doors.
“Indeed, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed at a press conference on Monday, the British government is maintaining its position on the game.
“He said,” At every stage of this crisis, we have been guided by scientific advice and made the right decisions at the right time. It’s important, that’s what we do. There is often a wrong time to put in place certain measures, thinking about sustainability and everything in between. At all levels, we have been guided by this science, guided by making the right decisions at the right time and I stand by that. ”
The British government
It seems to bring us back to government.
The above quote from Rishi Sunak was in direct response to ECHO’s question whether the government was too slow to act by banning mass gatherings and whether it was a mistake to let this specific match go away. ‘before.
As you can see above, the Chancellor said he was sticking to the decisions made, insisting that they were “the right decisions at the right time.”
Interestingly, the day of the match, government deputy chief medical adviser Jenny Harries said in a social media interview with Boris Johnson that major sporting events were not estimated to have a great effect on the transmission of the virus. .
Of course, the government would continue to ban such events after new models indicated that its lack of restrictions at the time could have resulted in up to 250,000 deaths if continued.
And on Monday, April 20, the deputy science advisor suggested that the idea that the Anfield fixture may have helped spread the infection in Merseyside could be explored.
Professor Angela McLean said: “I am really sad to see that so many people in Liverpool are not well and many have died.
“The question must be placed in the context of the general policy of the time.
“If we were at the forefront of history where we lived our normal lives, in this circumstance, going to a football match is not a particularly significant additional risk.
“However, once we get to the situation of our strange lives as we live them now, when we spend all our time at home, of course, you would not add an additional risk of seeing many people leaving the same place at the same time.
“I think it will be very interesting to see once all the scientific research has been done on the relationship between the viruses that have circulated in Liverpool and in Spain – this is certainly an interesting hypothesis that you put forward. “