17. NAIVES: Learning from Heysel

There is good news regarding the R0 number of the SARS-CoV-2, and that is that the R0 is calculated considering an innocent population, what in scientific publications is called a naive population, or a population that does not know what is happening.

In an innocent population, an individual who is feverish and coughing could be on a bus or subway without keeping distance from others, or without wearing a mask. The passengers around him would also not separate from him because they do not think they can get infected.

But since we are no longer a naive population and we take precautions, the Ro number is drastically reduced. In football, an innocent team could be the one that falls for all of the opposing team’s set piece. Having studied these used against you and against other teams, you learn, lose your innocence, and protect yourself.

Global infection data tells us that those countries that took the longest to lose their innocence are being hit hardest by the pandemic. Greece, a country of 11 million inhabitants —a third of them living in the Athens metropolitan area— suffered the first death from COVID-19 on March 12th, when more than half the world already was on alert about the pandemic. However, the first COVID-19 deaths in Italy and Spain occurred two and four weeks before confinements were decreed, back on March 11th. As a consequence of being an innocent population during those weeks, deaths from COVID-19 in Spain numbered more than 19,000*. However, as of today*, Greece only accumulates about 100 deaths from COVID-19.

A population is also innocent if they believe everything told to them and if they fail to compare and contrast. Incredible hoaxes have emerged during this COVID-19 crisis, yet many people have believed them. A video of a man claiming that the coronavirus was killed by gargling with salt water went viral. Fake news makes us more innocent and R0 goes up. However, being well informed, we lower the value of R0 and are stronger against COVID-19.

Speaking of hoaxes and conspiratorial thoughts, in the world of football we have the case of a team from the Spanish Third Division called Flat Earth Football Club. The team president, and most of his partners, believe that the earth is flat. Flat Earth F. C. has encountered some difficulties in its four years of existence. For example, it is bad luck that just now that they founded the club in Móstoles (Madrid), the Spanish government has appointed an astronaut as science minister. Another problem that the club has is that there are not enough believers and they have to hire non-believers in a flat earth. In addition, one of best signings, the Argentinian Lucas Mórsica, is studying to be a commercial pilot and, of course, he goes around saying that his books affirm that the earth is round, and that it rotates and everything.

In the 2nd century BC, Eratosthenes, who was director of the Library of Alexandria, calculated the radius of the earth (6,371 km) with extraordinary precision, using a stick and shadow measurements. Twenty-two centuries later we are like this, with people believing that we live on a flat earth and people who say they kill viruses with salt water gargles.

We do not know the precise number of people infected with SARS-CoV-2, with or without symptoms, because not enough tests are being done to find out. What we do have, more or less approximate, is the number of deaths from COVID-19.

In 1964, in Lima, in a qualifying match for the Tokyo Olympics between Peru and Argentina, 320 people died in avalanches caused by tear gas. 66 people died in Glasgow in 1971 in a derby between Celtic and Rangers. There were 71 deaths at the Monumental in 1968 in a River Plate-Boca Juniors derby. 96 died in Hillsborough (Sheffield Wednesday’s group) in a FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989.

But perhaps the most shocking tragedy, the one that changed many things, was that of the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. There “only” 39 people died, but being a European Cup final – between Liverpool and Juventus – the tragedy was seen on television by millions of people. Iconic and tragic images changed the regulations in the stadiums, removing the fences that acted as death traps for the spectators who died crushed and suffocated in avalanches.

In the fight against this coronavirus, our stadium is our health system. A stadium that needs to have the capacity to deal with thousands of infected people and to properly care for symptomatic patients. You need powerful science to prevent and respond as efficiently as possible. You need to remove the fences to reduce the death toll. Those fences are the shortage of tests, the lack of ICU beds, an insufficient number of respirators, or the reduction in the number of health personnel.

While we improve our stadium, the immediate solution is to try not to fill it to capacity. Do not spread and do not catch it. We are no longer innocent. We must reduce the number of infected people to reduce the number of deaths. Hopefully, governments will learn from this crisis, as UEFA learned from the Brussels tragedy, and invest in a health system that will have the same effect that the Santiago Bernabéu stadium causes the rival team. A sanitary system that causes stage fright of any virus that comes out onto the field.

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