NEWS
20/04/2020 19:28 BST | Updated 20/04/2020 19:34 BST

Government Scientist Says Theory Liverpool-Atletico Madrid Game Helped Spread Virus Is An 'Interesting Hypothesis'

Around 3,000 supporters from the virus-hit Spanish city traveled to the UK just before lockdown.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Atletico Madrid players celebrate with fans at the end of the match against Liverpool on March 11.

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A leading government scientific adviser has said the idea that coronavirus spread in the wake of the Champions League clash between Liverpool and Athletico Madrid is an “interesting hypothesis”.

MPs in Liverpool have questioned the wisdom of allowing 3,000 supporters from coronavirus-hit Madrid to travel for the last-16 second-leg fixture at Anfield on March 11.

The match took place before the government decided to ban major events later in March.

Questions have also been raised over the decision to let the Cheltenham Festival go ahead. Four days of horse racing were staged as planned, with additional hygiene measures in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, and concluded on March 13. Prime minister Boris Johnson addressed the UK 10 days later to impose the current lockdown.

At the daily Downing Street press conference, a reporter from the Liverpool Echo asked whether the match could be the reason for a surge of coronavirus-liked deaths in the city.

Liverpool hospitals have recorded more than 250 coronavirus deaths, with more than 1,100 confirmed cases. More than 16,000 people in the UK have died, 

In response, deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean, said it is an “interesting hypothesis”.

Asked about the game on March 11, she said: “The question you’ve raised has to be put into context of the general policy at the time.”

When normal life was under way going to a football match was not a “particularly large extra risk”, she said.

“However, when you get to the situation of our strange lives as we live them now where we spend all our time basically at home, of course you wouldn’t add on an extra risk of lots and lots of people going off to the same place at the same time,” she continued.

“I think it will be very interesting to see in the future when all the science is done what relationship there is between the virus that has circulated in Liverpool and the virus that has circulated in Spain. That’s certainly an interesting hypothesis you raise there.” 

Earlier, culture secretary Oliver Dowden defended his decision to argue the Liverpool versus Atletico Madrid football match and Cheltenham Festival should have gone ahead.

Appearing on Good Morning Britain, Dowden was accused by presenter Piers Morgan of “actively encouraging” people to attend the events after the government decided not to ban major events until late March.

Dowden said: “The scientific evidence we were being given was that, at a mass gathering, the threat at a mass gathering relates to the people who immediately surround you – the people in front of you and behind you.

“The risk at mass gatherings was no greater or less than it would have been in pubs or restaurants, and the advice at that point was that we did not need to ban mass gatherings.”

Asked whether the advice was wrong, the Cabinet minister replied: “As the situation developed, the scientific advice changed and we changed our guidance off the back of it.

“But mass gatherings are not different to any of those other events I described and at the appropriate moment we took the decision to close pubs, to close restaurants.” 

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