Scientists have suggested that the longer England remain in the competition in Qatar, the more Covid-19 could potentially spread – as people pack into pubs and each other’s homes to watch each match.
This effect was evidenced – prior to the game-changing arrival of vaccines – during the Euro 2020 competition, which the government’s study into Covid rates at mass events found had generated “a significant risk to public health”.
Of the 49 days’ worth of music, sport and entertainment events monitored as part of the study, 85 per cent of all infections discovered were linked to the eight matches played at Wembley, totalling more than 6,300 new infections – most originating from the final and semi-final.
“It was a much bigger event in terms of mixing people and spreading the virus than the celebrations we had at Christmas that year,” said Professor Christophe Fraser, an epidemiologist at Oxford University.
“That suggests that a key factor in influencing infection rates this year will be England’s performance during the World Cup.”
“We are in a much better position than we were two years ago, of course,” he told The Observer. “Vaccines have made sure of that and there is no reason that people should not enjoy the World Cup. I intend to do so.”
The scientist advised that people who watch matches in large gatherings of people should take lateral flow tests before then visiting an elderly or immunocompromised relative – and should take up all offers of a vaccine.
The number of infections currently in the UK are believed by the Office for National Statistics to have topped one million for the first time since mid-October, driven by an increase in England.
But infection rates remain far lower than the peak of nearly four million driven earlier this year by the emergence of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants and the “unprecedented” peak of close to five million seen in March, driven by BA.2.
Cases are not expected to peak yet, warned Professor Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist at Manchester University. “We are in a triple dynamic of infections. We have Covid, we have respiratory syncytial virus – RSV – and we have influenza,” she told the newspaper.
“At the same time, we are seeing increases in hospitalisations for all three of these diseases. For good measure, none of them are at the point of peaking. It is a worry, especially as we know how stretched the NHS is.”