‘No zero risk’: UK move to increase Wembley fans questioned

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LONDON (AP) — The British government faced accusations of mixed messaging Wednesday that could threaten its plan to fully lift lockdown restrictions in England next month after it decided to allow more than 60,000 people inside Wembley Stadium for the latter stages of soccer’s European Championship.

Following discussions with UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, the government increased the number of fans allowed inside the London stadium for the semifinals on July 6 and 7 and the final on July 11.

Wembley, which can take 90,000, will now be allowed to be at about 75% capacity for the three matches, making them the largest sporting gatherings since the coronavirus pandemic took root in the country in March 2020. In contrast, only around 20,000 people were inside the stadium on Tuesday night when England beat the Czech Republic 1-0.

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The decision to increase Wembley’s capacity has stoked worries that it will fuel the current wave of infections in the U.K., which has already endured Europe’s second-worst pandemic death toll of 128,000.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, warned that allowing 60,000 fans to crowd into Wembley is a “recipe for disaster” given the prevalence of the delta variant first identified in India, which scientists say is 40% to 80% more contagious.

“We are so close to getting on top of this virus with the success of the vaccination program –- why put the end of lockdown on July 19 at risk?” he said.

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