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Johnson says nation’s health, not Euro final, is priority

London (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his priority is keeping the “country safe from Covid”, as a source confirmed to AFP that UEFA is keeping the option open of moving the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final from Wembley to Budapest.

With the closing stages of the European Championship scheduled to take place in London, The Times reported that Johnson was considering exempting around 2,500 UEFA and FIFA officials, sponsors and broadcasters from quarantine measures in place in Britain due to coronavirus protocols.

This would free them up to attend training sessions, matches, meet with British government ministers and move around freely.

Some fear this would spark discontent among Britons whose ability to travel on holiday has been restricted by rules enforcing a strict period of self-isolation or quarantine on their return.

According to The Times, Johnson is keen to allow the officials in as he sees it as an ideal moment to lobby for a mooted joint bid, along with the Republic of Ireland, for the 2030 World Cup.

However, he struck a more cautious tone on Friday.

“We will do what we have to do to keep the country safe from Covid,” he said.

“That’s obviously going to be our priority. We will be talking to UEFA about what they want and see if we can make some sensible accommodations, but the priority has to be public health.”

However, Professor John Edmunds, a member of SAGE, the government’s scientific advisory body, told Times Radio that allowing the officials in would not pose a threat.

He said the Delta variant had barely taken hold in mainland Europe and their rates of infection were “much, much lower than they are here”.

“I don’t think it’s really going to be the major problem for us,” he added.

“I don’t think it’s going to change the course of the epidemic in the UK.”

Several reports said government ministers were nervous that if rules were not relaxed then UEFA could move the semi-finals and final to Budapest, where there will be no border restrictions for travel within the Schengen zone from next week.

Hungary is also prepared to host the games with full stadiums while Wembley will only be half full.

A source close to the organisers, who asked not to be identified, told AFP the option of moving the semi-finals and final to Budapest “was one that is being considered”.

UEFA said in a statement Friday: “There is always a contingency plan, but we are confident that the final week will be held in London.”

“We are in discussions with the local authorities to try to allow fans of the participating teams to attend the matches, using a strict testing and bubble concept that would mean their stay in the UK would be less than 24 hours and their movements would be restricted to approved transport and venues only,” European football’s governing body continued.

A similar plan was used in Porto for Chelsea and Manchester City fans attending last month’s Champions League final.

That match was moved to the Portuguese city from Istanbul because supporters would have had to quarantine on their return from Turkey, as it is on the UK government’s ‘red list’ of countries.

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