Ghana's No. 1

Many months before fans can return amid Project Restart, says disease expert

Published on: 25 May 2020

As the Premier League's Project Restart continues to move forward, a leading expert in infectious diseases has told Sky Sports News that it is unlikely that football fans will attend games until a vaccine for coronavirus is found.

Dr Peter Chin-Hong, from the University of California in San Francisco, says there are many challenges with people watching the likes of football, NFL and Major League Baseball, and says it could be many months before we see supporters back in stadiums.

"Unfortunately it will be very challenging to have sport in the way we used to know it, I know people are trying to be creative but it's difficult to see how you can keep the six-foot circumference distance," he said. "Remember it's not just six feet to the side, it's six feet in front and behind."

And Professor Chin-Hong says there are many reasons why a stadium setting with fans would be different for people when trying to maintain social distancing compared to a school or supermarket.

"What worries me the most is the emotional aspect of the game, in Europe and particularly the UK, there are a lot of emotions and feelings that go into the games there," he added.

"You don't know how you're going to act or react to a situation, and when you have that, I think you lose inhibitions and that would be very challenging."

Dr Chin-Hong studies the behaviours of infectious diseases and viruses and explained how coronavirus carries a greater risk of transmission in a stadium setting.

"Normally this virus travels in heavy droplets, about three feet in distance around a person, but there are modifying factors with regards to a stadium setting," he said. "First of all, shouting. Shouting can give the virus superpowers we call aerosol, it can project much further, up to 12 feet.

"People in a stadium are also likely to be shouting for hours unlike passing someone for a few seconds in the street, therefore a small risk, when you multiply it by duration of time, all of a sudden becomes not inconsequential."

It is becoming pretty evident that the remaining games in the Premier League and Championship will have to be played behind closed doors, but the prospect of starting next season with full stadiums also looks unlikely, according to Chin-Hong.

"Unfortunately, until we have a vaccine, and there is much faster progress with a vaccine than I thought was possible," he said. "Ultimately that will be the time when we can come back to normal, or at least a new normal when it comes to spectators in a soccer stadium."

However, he did have some encouraging words for cricket fans.

"This doesn't have to be with all sports," he added. "Tennis and golf can be managed but what we know with this virus is you need to be able to manage your environment to keep yourself safe, and in a stadium that is difficult. You can control your own space but not others.

"In the USA, MLB, NFL and soccer in the UK maybe challenging. With alcohol and being so close to people you know, we go to these places to let go of the troubles of the day.

"However, with the likes of cricket, possibly that is something, if the organisers can make the necessary arrangements. If people cannot then stick to these behaviours then the authorities can scale back."

Dr Chin-Hong has been dealing with the effects of COVID-19 for months now and believes its specific traits will contribute to it having a detrimental effect on supporter participation for a good while yet.

"This pandemic has been extremely challenging for all of us, the nature of COVID-19 is insidious," he said.

"We know through multiple studies that people transmit when they are not feeling sick, and that's why the stadium setting again is concerning. You can't look at a person and think, that is a person who can transmit."


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