Thursday March 19 2020
Atalanta-Valencia 'trigger' for pandemic

Atalanta-Valencia in the Champions League might’ve been a “trigger” for the devastating coronavirus pandemic in Bergamo, claims an immunologist.

The 4-1 victory was played at San Siro on February 19, so 40,000 fans travelled from Bergamo to Milan for the historic Round of 16 tie.

Lombardy is the region by far affected the most by this pandemic in Italy, with Bergamo one of the worst hit cities, as last night 60 coffins were taken by military trucks because the crematorium was overloaded.

There have been 533 deaths in Bergamo since the crisis began, 93 alone over the last 24 hours, whereas the crematorium can manage at most 25 per day when running constantly.

“It’s probable that there were several major triggers and catalysts for the diffusion of the virus,” immunologist Francesco Le Foche told the Corriere dello Sport newspaper from the Umberto I hospital in Rome.

“The Atalanta-Valencia game could very well have been one of them. It was the apex of collective euphoria in a unique football season for this club.

“A month has passed since that match, so the timing is pertinent. The aggregation of thousands of people, centimetres from each other, engaging in manifestations of euphoria like hugging, shouting, all of that could’ve favoured viral reciprocation.

“I have to imagine many didn’t want to miss that game if they had tickets, even if they felt a slight fever. With hindsight, it was madness to play with a crowd present, but at the time things weren’t clear enough. It’d be unthinkable now.”

Valencia have announced 35 per cent of their squad and staff tested positive for coronavirus, linking it to that trip to Milan.

However, so far Atalanta have not registered any cases of their own.

The plan is to resume Serie A from May 2, but the immunologist has severe doubts.

“A context as socially uniting and empathic as football is the antithesis of behaviour that you need in the emergency of a virus pandemic. It’s a threat by its very definition. Playing behind closed doors could be an option.”