England supporters at Wembley for the match against Germany on 29 June. Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP
The decision to allow thousands of football fans to watch England’s Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark at Wembley could result in an outbreak of coronavirus cases, the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has conceded.
Speaking to LBC radio, Kwarteng said the risk could be managed but not eliminated. “If you have thousands of people in one place … there’s always risk in life,” he said.
“I think we’re managing the risk. I’m confident there won’t be a big outbreak but we can’t guarantee that now.”
He also admitted that plans to keep self-isolation requirements in place after the end of other restrictions was “not a perfect solution”. Following complaints from business leaders, Kwarteng told Sky News on Wednesday “you can’t have it both ways”.
“On the one hand we’re saying we want to reopen but we’re giving a measure of precaution in terms of delaying the lifting of self-isolation restrictions,” he said.
“It’s a balance, it’s not a perfect solution. But on the one hand we’re saying that we can reopen and on the other we’re saying that we want to give a little bit more protection in terms of the self-isolation rules.”
Kwarteng said he would “probably” wear a mask on the London underground after the legal requirement ends, but it was a personal view and “not something I would mandate, or necessarily dictate to other people”.
Asked about making face masks optional, Prof Laurence Lovat, epidemiologist and clinical director at WEISS Centre at UCL, said masks had “an enormous impact” on the transmission of airborne aerosols.
“One thing we really don’t want to be doing is to have a major spike of patients coming into hospitals again just as hospitals are starting to settle down and get back to routine work and face masks are a really simple way to prevent people from transmitting disease to others.”
When Kwarteng was asked if the decision to lift restrictions before young people were vaccinated was not “herd immunity by another name”, he said: “We targeted older more vulnerable people and the medical view was that younger people had more protection than more vulnerable groups. Clearly we’re looking at vaccinating younger people … but we feel that on balance, the best approach is to try and get our kids back into school and get them back into normal life.”
Sir Paul Nurse, the director of the Francis Crick Institute, said it was not unreasonable to open up the country after the vaccine rollout, but added that it was not sensible” “to open up so much so fast when the level of infections is rising so quickly”.
“This decision is informed by science but it’s a political decision,” he said. “It makes no sense not to insist on the wearing of masks. We need sensible, well thought out, good plans. Of course we have to make the most of the summer but it doesn’t mean we have to open the door wide open.”
Nurse called for testing to continue and an increased focused on the creation of safe work environments.
“Letting the virus spread in these circumstances encourages a new variant arising in the UK itself. We could create a variant resistant to the vaccine,” he said.