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Liverpool City Council's director of public health says the Champions League last-16 visit from Atletico Madrid at Anfield should not have been played.
"It was not the right decision to stage the match," new director of public health Matthew Ashton told The Guardian's David Conn.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in Liverpool have risen to 262, and Ashton cited the March 11 match as a potential cause for the accelerated spread of the virus on Merseyside.
"Although we will never know, the Atletico Madrid game could have been one of the cultural events and gatherings that influenced the rise in Liverpool," Ashton added. "It is definitely one to be included on the list for learning and for a future inquiry, so that organizations can learn and not make similar mistakes."
Government officials in England have been widely criticized for a slow response to the pandemic. On the day of Atletico's 3-2 victory at Anfield - when Madrid was already the epicenter of the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Spain - the chief executive of the British government's behavioral insights team, Dr. David Halpern, first publicly outlined the since-debunked herd immunity approach.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who confirmed last week that he tested positive for COVID-19, is calling for a lockdown that many say comes too late. As of Thursday morning, the U.K. has nearly 34,000 confirmed cases and just under 3,000 deaths.
Like Valencia's trip to Italy to face Atalanta in the Champions League, football matches open to the public prior to the widespread suspension of domestic leagues and continental competitions have been cited as increasing the spread of the coronavirus.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has also expressed regrets that the match was played. Klopp's Everton counterpart, Carlo Ancelotti, says the two Merseyside managers have since spoken about the fixture, with Klopp calling the decision to play a "criminal act."
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