Almost 2,000 new coronavirus cases in Scotland have been linked to Euro 2020, with well over half found among fans who invaded London for their football team’s clash with England.
A new report by Public Health Scotland said that 1,991 people who had tested positive since the tournament began had recently travelled for a match or visited a pub, house party or fanzone for a game.
Nearly two-thirds of the cases, 1,294 people, reported travelling to London for a Euro 2020 event, including 397 who were inside Wembley for the England v Scotland match on June 18.
It was estimated that more than 20,000 Scottish supporters ignored pleas not to travel to the UK capital without a ticket, with many then crowding into public spaces in London, without wearing masks or social distancing.
Many Scots made the journey of more than 300 miles on busy coaches or trains, raising the prospect that the Tartan Army invasion will be seen as a “super-spreading” event which has contributed significantly to spiralling Covid rates in Scotland.
The country is currently the virus hotspot of Europe, with 291.5 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 138.4 in England, 66.7 in Northern Ireland and 65.4 in Wales.
The report was published 24 hours after Nicola Sturgeon denied taking a “softly softly” approach with Scotland fans who travelled to London for the clash with their oldest rivals, at their first major football tournament since the 1998 World Cup.
The game ended in a 0-0 draw, but Scotland lost their other two matches and were eliminated in the group stages.
The First Minister has declined to strongly condemn the actions of fans who ignored pleas not to travel to London, despite previously expressing disgust with Rangers supporters who gathered in Glasgow to celebrate their first Scottish Premiership title win in a decade.
Ms Sturgeon declined to put a legal ban in place on travel from Scotland to London for the game, despite doing so for other parts of the UK including Manchester, which she lifted this week following an outcry from Andy Burnham, the city’s mayor.
Liam McArthur, a Liberal Democrat MSP, said: “The restrictions between Scotland and Manchester were a poor call and they have been rightfully lifted. To many, it just seemed inconsistent that places with similar rates of the virus to parts of Scotland were off limits, but a 6,000-person fan zone in Glasgow or travel to London were fair game.
“With two more weeks of the tournament, I can only encourage people to remain alert and observe all the necessary precautions during the remaining games.”
Under-40s see the most positive cases
The Public Health Scotland report showed that about three-quarters of the positive cases associated with Euro 2020 were aged between 20 and 39, while nine in every 10 were male. In 34 per cent of all positive cases, people reported recently having gone to a pub for football.
There were 55 positive cases among people who visited a controversial fan zone in Glasgow, while 75 had attended Scotland’s defeats against Croatia and the Czech Republic at Hampden Park.
It is possible that the fans attended more than one Euro 2020 event and it is not possible to say definitively where they caught coronavirus.
The statistics will raise fears that England could see a similar surge associated with football, after scenes of widespread jubilation at Wembley and across the country following the team’s 2-0 second-round victory over Germany.
Asked about Scotland fans’ travel, Ms Sturgeon said on Tuesday: “We haven’t taken a softly, softly approach. We were very explicit in saying to fans who didn’t have a ticket for Wembley not to travel.
“We can’t physically stop every person travelling and significant numbers of people did travel.”
‘Greater precautions could have been taken’
A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: “While Scottish fans are renowned around the world for bringing a party atmosphere with them to the big tournaments, Covid restrictions are still in place on both sides of the border, and the Mayor was clear that the best thing for fans without tickets to the game or a safe place to watch it from was to enjoy the game from Scotland and not come to London.”
Annie Wells, the Scottish Conservatives’ Shadow Health Secretary, said: “As we continue to fight the Covid pandemic, it is concerning to see such a large number of cases associated in relation to football fans gathering together.
“While it was understandable fans were keen to enjoy the first appearance of a Scotland men’s team at a major tournament in over two decades, it is clear that greater precautions could have been taken.
“The wider public will be angry that those who ultimately broke many restrictions by travelling down south could mean our progress in fighting the virus is hampered.
“However, there was a failure from the First Minister and other SNP ministers to deliver clear and consistent messaging over the public health risks associated with travelling to watch football.
“They are now trying to spin a positive picture that they were on top of this situation, which simply wasn’t the case.
“It is critical that SNP ministers ensure that every resource is given to Test and Protect to stop any further spread of the virus and give us the best chance of easing restrictions in the coming weeks.”