- A Champions League football match in Milan in February is one of the key reasons the coronavirus spread with such deadly speed in northern Italy.
- Atalanta, from the city of Bergamo in the Lombardy region, played Spanish side Valencia on February 19, winning 4-1.
- The game was attended by around 40,000 Atalanta fans, most of whom had traveled 35 miles to Milan from Bergamo in ramped, close-contact heavy modes of transport like cars and buses.
- Fabiano di Marco, the chief pneumologist at Bergamo's main hospital, described the game and travel associated with it as a "biological bomb" for spreading the virus.
- The match has been described as "Game Zero" by Italian media.
- Lombardy is the worst-hit part of Italy by COVID-19, with more than 1,000 of the approximately 7,500 deaths in the country centred in the region.
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A Champions League football match in Milan in February is one of the key reasons the coronavirus spread with such deadly speed in northern Italy, senior figures in the country have said, with Italian media dubbing it "Game Zero."
The match, which saw Atalanta — a side from the Italian city of Bergamo — beat Spain's Valencia 4-1, was attended by 44,000 people, the majority of whom were supporting Atalanta.
Bergamo's mayor, Giorgio Gori, and the head of one of the city's intensive care units have both placed some of the blame for the disease's spread in the Lombardy region, which is among the worst impacted places on the whole planet. Bergamo, a city of around 120,000 people roughly 35 miles from Milan, has been the epicenter.
Some 7,500 people have died from COVID-19 in Italy, and almost 75,000 have been infected. More than 1,000 of those deaths have been in Lombardy, which is home to both Milan and Bergamo.
"I'm sure that 40,000 people hugging and kissing each other at a distance of one centimetre for four times, as Atalanta scored four times, well, those were an incredible accelerator for the infection," Luca Lorini, the head of the intensive care unit at Giovanni Hospitali XXIII in Bergamo, told the Associated Press Wednesday.
"Right now, we're at war. When peacetime comes, I can assure you we will go and see how many of the 40,000 people who went to the game became infected. Right now, we have other priorities."
The likely spread of the virus among Atalanta fans on the day of the game was not just confined to the match itself, according to the chief pneumologist at Bergamo's main hospital, who described the day's events as a "biological bomb."
"I have heard a lot of theories. I'll say mine: Feb. 19, 40,000 Bergamaschi went to San Siro for Atalanta-Valencia," Fabiano di Marco told the Italian newspaper, Corriere Della Serra, as quoted by the AP.
"In buses, cars, trains. A biological bomb, unfortunately."
As the game was held in Milan, rather than Bergamo itself — largely down to the small size of Atalanta's home stadium — fans had to travel the 35 or so miles to Milan by car, bus, and train. The AP reports that more than 30 busloads of fans traveled together to the game, spending at least an hour in cramped conditions with significant amounts of physical contact.
People in Bergamo who didn't attend the game also packed into bars and restaurants to watch the match, probably the biggest in Atalanta's history.
"If it's true what they're saying that the virus was already circulating in Europe in January, then it's very probable that 40,000 Bergamaschi in the stands of San Siro, all together, exchanged the virus between them," Bergamo's Mayor, Giorgio Gori said, according to the AP.
"As is possible that so many Bergamaschi that night got together in houses, bars to watch the match and did the same."
Since the game, more than one-third of Valencia's squad on the night have tested positive for COVID-19. At the same time, Atalanta announced Tuesday that reserve goalkeeper Marco Sportiello had contracted the disease, the first player at the club to be confirmed sick.
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