The Bundesliga’s plan to restart in May faced increased opposition on Monday with a German virologist warning that players’ health remains at risk from the coronavirus.
Leipzig-based Professor Uwe G. Liebert told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the league’s proposed hygiene measures — games without fans, continuous testing and permanent monitoring of players — are not sufficient to guarantee the safety of those involved.
“We don’t know about the long-term effects of an illness with COVID-19,” Liebert said, referring to the death of a 31-year-old without underlying health problems from the disease. “It’s possible to get very sick or die from the virus at a young age.”
Liebert, the head of the Institute of Virology at the University of Leipzig, said the league’s plan to quarantine any players who test positive for the virus is flawed.
“You can only detect an infection after 48 hours … From my point of view, all people in contact with a soccer player are first-degree contacts,” he said, referring to the disease control center Robert Koch Institute’s label for people in close contact for more than 15 minutes. “So everyone would have to go in quarantine, possibly also the opposing team.”
Despite a ban on all large gatherings through the end of August in Germany, football officials had been hoping to restart the league without spectators as early as May 9.
But the decision is not in their hands. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s next meeting with state governors to discuss the ongoing fight against the pandemic is scheduled for Thursday, when the Bundesliga will not be the top priority.
As of Monday, Germany had registered almost 160,000 cases of the coronavirus, with nearly 6,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The true number of infections is likely much higher because many have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without showing symptoms.
While Bavarian governor Markus Söder and North Rhine-Westphalia counterpart Armin Laschet appear content with the league’s proposed measures to resume, the plans have been criticized by other politicians and health experts.
Green party leader Annalena Baerbock said Sunday it would be “deeply unfair (to resume the league) when a child is not even allowed on a lonely swing.”
Robert Koch Institute vice president Lars Schaade previously criticized plans to routinely test soccer players when testing should be focused on people who show symptoms or who are linked to virus outbreaks.
Fan groups have also opposed plans to resume the season, while the police union has warned that supporters may congregate outside stadiums if they’re not allowed to attend. Several hundred fans appeared outside Borussia Mönchengladbach’s closed stadium for the team's derby with Cologne on March 11. The league was suspended two days later.