Wed | Apr 8, 2020

‘Game Zero’ - Champions League game between Atalanta, Valencia linked to spread of COVID-19 in Italy, Spain

Published:Thursday | March 26, 2020 | 12:08 AM
Spectators sit in the stands during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, first leg, match between Atalanta and Valencia at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy on Wednesday, February 19.
Spectators sit in the stands during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, first leg, match between Atalanta and Valencia at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy on Wednesday, February 19.

ROME, Italy (AP):

It was the biggest football game in Atalanta’s history and a third of Bergamo’s population made the short trip to Milan’s famed San Siro Stadium.

Nearly 2,500 fans of visiting Spanish club Valencia also travelled to that UEFA Champions League match.

More than a month later, experts are pointing to the game on February 19 as one of the biggest reasons why Bergamo has become one of the epicentres of the coronavirus pandemic – a “biological bomb” was the way one respiratory specialist put it – and why 35 per cent of Valencia’s team became infected.

The match, which local media have dubbed ‘Game Zero,’ was held two days before the first case of locally transmitted COVID-19 was confirmed in Italy.

“We were mid-February, so we didn’t have the circumstances of what was happening,” Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori said this week during a live Facebook chat with the Foreign Press Association in Rome. “If it’s true what they’re saying that the virus was already circulating in Europe in January, then it’s very probable that 40,000 Bergamaschi in the stands of San Siro, all together, exchanged the virus between them. As is possible that so many Bergamaschi that night got together in houses, bars, to watch the match and did the same.

‘It was inevitable’

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t have known. No one knew the virus was already here,” the mayor added. “It was inevitable.”

Less than a week after the game, the first cases were reported in the province of Bergamo.

At about the same time in Valencia, a journalist who travelled to the match became the second person infected in the region, and it didn’t take long before people who were in contact with him also had the virus, as did Valencia fans who were at the game.

While Atalanta announced its first positive case on Tuesday for goalkeeper Marco Sportiello, Valencia said more than a third of its squad got infected, “despite the strict measures adopted by the club” after the match in Milan.

As of Tuesday, nearly 7,000 people in the province of Bergamo had tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 1,000 people had died from the virus – making Bergamo the most deadly province in all of Italy for the pandemic. The Valencia region had more than 2,600 people infected.