Berlin lifts virus curbs for football fans to return to stadium

Berlin (AFP) –


Football fans in Germany will return to stadiums for the first time since October on Saturday after Berlin authorities agreed to lift Covid curbs for 2,000 people to attend Union Berlin's final game of the Bundesliga season against RB Leipzig.

"Union Berlin made an application, and we have decided in consultation with the health authorities that 2000 fans will be allowed into the stadium," Martin Pallgen, spokesperson for the Berlin government's sports department, told AFP subsidiary SID.

The move allows season ticket holders to watch from the stands as the Berliners fight for a place in next year's Europa Conference League on the final day of the season.

In a statement on their website, Union said the "pilot event" will only be allowed to go ahead if "the pandemic situation permits".

According to Pallgen, the approval is conditional on Berlin's seven-day incidence rate remaining at less than 100 new cases per 100,000 people this week.

If infection rates do remain low, fans who have recovered from Covid-19, are fully vaccinated or can provide an up-to-date negative test will be allowed into the Alte Foersterei stadium, which usually holds around 20,000 supporters.

With demand from Union's famously passionate supporters far outstripping supply, tickets will be allocated via a lottery among season-ticket holders.

Strict coronavirus restrictions have been in place in Germany since last autumn, and Bundesliga stadiums have remained empty since late October.

Yet with infection rates dropping all over Germany and the country's vaccination campaign now firing on all cylinders, many states have made cautious moves to open up the economy.

Outdoor dining is set to be allowed in Berlin from next weekend for the first time since October, while coastal areas such as Schleswig-Holstein have opened up for tourists.

Yet Union will probably be the only top-flight club cheered on by their fans this weekend, after authorities in Munich and the football-mad western state of North-Rhine Westphalia ruled out a return for supporters.

The Berlin club, who are punching above their weight on the pitch this season, have been among the most active in their attempts to re-open for supporters.

Criticised last summer for announcing controversial plans to return the stadium to full capacity, they have since been among the first clubs to trial matchday testing on journalists and club staff at games behind closed doors.

Fans attending Saturday's game will be able to get a free rapid antigen test at the club's own test centre, which opened to the public on a site adjacent to the stadium last month.