A government science chief today refused to rule out that allowing 3,000 Madrid football fans to travel to Liverpool for a football match last month may have contributed to a spread of the deadly coronavirus in the city.
At this evening's Downing Street press conference, Professor Angela McLean was quizzed by the Liverpool Echo about the decision to play the March 11 Champions League tie as normal, with Madrid fans travelling to Liverpool from the Spanish capital, which was already experiencing an acute outbreak of the virus.
Echo Political Editor Liam Thorp pointed out that at the time of the controversial match, the Deputy Chief Medical Adviser to the government Jenny Harries suggested such major events would not have a big impact on the spread of the virus – although the policy went on to change and mass gatherings were banned.
Liverpool hospitals have recorded more than 250 coronavirus deaths, with more than 1100 confirmed cases – a number of Liverpool fans have said they believe they caught the virus around the time of the match.
Responding, Dame Angela said the idea that the match and the travelling Madrid fans may have contributed to the spread of the virus in Liverpool was an 'interesting hypothesis.'
She said: "I'm genuinely sad to see that so many people in Liverpool are unwell and so many have died.
"The question needs to be put into the context of what was the general policy of the time.
"If we were at the bit of history where we were living our lives as normal, in that circumstance, going to a football match is not a particularly large extra risk.
"However, once we get to the situation of our strange lives as we live them now, when we spen all our time at home, of course you wouldn't add on an extra risk of lots and lots of people all going off to the same place at the same time.
"I think it will be very interesting to see once all the science is done what relationship there is between the viruses that have circulated in Liverpool and in Spain – that is certainly an interesting hypothesis you raise."
The ECHO also asked the Chancellor Rishi Sunak whether he felt the government acted too slowly to impose restrictions on events such as the Liverpool-Madrid game,
He said: "I would echo what Angela said, at every stage in this crisis we have been guided by the scientific advice and have been making the right decisions at the right time.
"There is often a wrong time to put certain measures in place, thinking about sustainability and everything else, but at all parts of this we have been guided by that science, by making the right decisions at the right time and I stand by that."
"More generally, as Michael Gove said yesterday, this is an unprecedented situation we are dealing with, I'm sure there are lessons we will learn from this.
"But in terms of the guidance I believe it was the right guidance at the right time based on the scientific advice we were provided with."