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COVID-19 ‘Game Zero’: Atalanta vs. Valencia in mid-February a ‘biological bomb’

40,000+ gathered on historic night for Bergamo and Atalanta

Atalanta v Valencia CF - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Giuseppe Cottini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Even if football is able to resume anytime soon, there is a very good chance that it will be played behind closed doors, in sight of TV cameras but without any fans in the stadiums. That all may seem a bit self-contradictory, but there was a story out of Italy yesterday that might illustrate exactly why such measures will be required, and perhaps for a good while.

Two of the hardest-hit countries in Europe by the coronavirus (so far) have been Italy and Spain, and two of their epicenters have been Bergamo and Valencia. Not coincidentally, those two communities came together for a certain Champions League football match on February 19 between Atalanta and Valencia CF, less than a week before the first official case was announced in the province.

“We were mid-February so we didn’t have the circumstances of what was happening. 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.

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

-Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori; source: FPA via AP

With over 40,000 in attendance at the San Siro (the match was played in nearby Milan since Atalanta’s home stadium in Bergamo does not meet UEFA requirements) and thus three communities directly affected, one doctor has called it a “biological bomb”, the “Game Zero” of COVID-19 in Europe, as dubbed by local media (playing off of the concept of “patient zero”, the first person infected by a given disease).

“I have heard a lot (of theories), I’ll say mine: Feb. 19, 40,000 Bergamaschi went to San Siro for Atalanta-Valencia. In buses, cars, trains. A biological bomb, unfortunately.”

-Fabiano di Marco, chief pneumologist; source: Corriere della Sera via AP

And no one really knew it was happening. Over a third of Valencia’s team were later confirmed to have been infected, while at least four former staff members from Atalanta have died, according to the AP’s report. The number of dead, ill, or infected are still growing by the day, even if testing has been mostly restricted (not necessarily by choice) to those showing symptoms of the disease.

If and when this outbreak eventually subsides, a complete investigation will probably uncover the exact path the disease took in its devastating journey across Europe and across the world. Until then, we have to do everything in our power to stop its spread, including long-term restrictions on public gatherings, socializing, and events in front of live audiences.

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