Boris Johnson Faces Backlash Over Quarantine-Free Euro Soccer VIPs

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a growing row over plans to water down pandemic curbs for visiting soccer officials in exchange for keeping this year’s European Championship semi-finals and final in London.

The British government is still in talks with European soccer authority UEFA over allowing officials, sponsors and VIPs linked to the teams, to come to the U.K. without having to go into quarantine, John Whittingdale, a minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in media interviews Wednesday.

“We’ve had to make special dispensation already for team members and people closely associated with teams,” Whittingdale told ITV. “UEFA are keen that more people associated with each country should be allowed to come, so we’ve been in discussion with them about that.”

The U.K. has already hosted some matches in London and Glasgow during the round-robin phase of the tournament, which concludes on Wednesday.

But London’s planned hosting of the semi-finals on July 6 and 7, and the final on July 11 was thrown into question when UEFA revealed it had a contingency plan to move them if needed due to the pandemic.

Travel Curbs

That set off a flurry of speculation as other countries also weighed in, with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi telling reporters the event should be moved due to Britain’s rising Covid-19 infections.

Johnson has made hosting the matches a priority, as an illustration of Britain’s emergence and recovery from the pandemic.

Those deemed eligible to come to the U.K. will be subject to a strict code of conduct including on travel and daily testing, with fines for any breaches, the prime minister’s spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters on Wednesday. Quarantine rules will not be relaxed to enable soccer fans to visit the U.K., he said.

But the proposed easing of curbs for officials and dignitaries has thrust the spotlight on ongoing restrictions facing regular travelers. On Wednesday, the aviation and travel industry is holding a mass lobbying event to protest rules they say are putting as many as 218,000 jobs at risk.

Special arrangements with UEFA would be “wrong,” the opposition Labour Party’s defense spokesman John Healey told Sky News on Wednesday. “One rule for important people, one rule for them, and one rule for the rest.”

The U.K. plan to let 60,000 fans attend next month’s matches if they’re fully vaccinated or test negative for Covid-19, is also controversial. Asked on LBC radio why capacity is being increased while people are still not allowed to dance at weddings, Whittingdale pointed to the findings of government trials into restarting sporting events during the pandemic.

“So far, the evidence is very encouraging and it is on that basis that we’ve been able to move to further relaxations,” he said.

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