Is Boris Johnson gambling on tonight’s Euro final to boost herd immunity?

Crowding together. Shouting. Singing. Welcome to the excitement of football. As England and Italy prepare for the Euro final, scientists are concerned that football is helping drive up Covid-19 infection rates by allowing potentially super spreader events such as the finals at Wembley and Wimbledon. It is predicted that seven million pints will be served during the Euro final tonight in pubs across the land. Health secretary Sajid Javid has suggested we might be heading towards 100,000 new cases a day. Did he take sporting events into account?

It’s coming home but could coronavirus also be coming home with the fans? Maybe Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid want that. Could the Euro final be a booster jab that gets us closer to herd immunity.

Forecasting future coronavirus infection rates is an uncertain process, a blend of empirical data and modelling that at times has seemed like a long range weather forecast. But the epidemiologists, like meteorologists, have broadly got their forecasts right. It is the politicians that often hadn’t recognised this, implementing lockdowns too late and opening up too early.

As we move towards 19 July, the anticipated Freedom Day, infection rates are rising rapidly as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads.

The rapid increase in cases is among younger people, the partially vaccinated population under 60.

It is being suggested that football has a part to play in the rise and that is why there has been a larger increase in cases among men. Professor Karl Friston of UCL has estimated that about 70,000 people will have picked up the infection during football-related activities on the day of the semi-final. That will lead to half a million cases in the next couple of weeks. Tonight’s final may generate many more cases.

Professor Friston predictions are controversial but could Boris Johnson be hoping that the Euro final could more us faster towards herd immunity? London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has run a competition with free Euro final tickets for Londoners that get vaccinated. As it takes ten days for vaccinations to provide a degree of immunity, he is really saying get vaccinated and risk getting Covid at the final!

Football is undoubtedly on the prime minister’s mind. There have been articles suggesting that Boris Johnson could learn from the Gareth Southgate approach to leadership, including by Alastair Campbell. To be honest, Johnson could learn from any approach to leadership but his own.

The concept of herd immunity through natural infection is not a comfortable one. While older have a high degree of immunity through vaccination, many younger people, especially school children, will need to experience Covid-19 to gain immunity. The majority will have mild symptoms. Some will show no symptoms. A small but still import minority will develop long Covid with implications for their future health. A cross-party group of MPs are calling for a review of the dehabilitating condition. Some scientists have warned this approach to immunity is dangerous, as have health workers and metro mayors.

Despite the concerns of scientists and doctors, ministers seem to be determined to open up England on 19 July. People are nervous. A straw poll underway on my Ludlow website suggests that 28% of people want to keep current restrictions and 41% want a partial lifting. Less than a third want a lifting of all restrictions on 19 July. This reflects the national picture where most adults feel that compliance with social distancing measures and wearing a face-covering are “important” or “very important”.

But Boris Johnson seems determined to take what has been described as the “biggest gamble of his life”.

Let’s hope for a euphoric victory tonight. But let’s not forget that there could also be long term consequences of greater socialisation and lowering of restrictions.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Jenny Barnes 11th Jul '21 - 9:14am

    The biggest gamble of his life … with your life and health as one of the chips.

  • Barry Lofty 11th Jul '21 - 9:19am

    Of this is one Johnson’s brilliant ideas God help us!!!

  • The idea of ‘desensitising’ the app. in a time of soaring infection rates seems inexplicable at least until you realise that runaway herd immunity was the original plan..

    With the far more infectious ‘delta’ variant the outcome (of ‘altering the app’) will be an ‘official R rate’ far lower than that in practice…

    Sadly, practicing misinformation on a population (fed a diet of football success) still seems to be working..

  • My political memory goes back to the Attlee Government (and in academic work much further than that). In that time there have been good, bad and indifferent governments, but the current UK Administration takes the award for the most trivial, casual with the truth dissembling bunch of rascals (never mind their legitimacy) I can remember.

    Bread and circuses was the method of the rulers of Imperial Rome. Today with the Caligula like Emperor Johnson it is no bread – but plenty of dangerous circuses.

  • John Marriott 11th Jul '21 - 11:07am

    I personally cannot stand politicians like Johnson trying to jump on the England soccer bandwagon. Mind you, that’s just about what he has done with the vaccination programme.

    While also hoping for an England victory tonight I am also worried about the reaction from some of the team’s so called supporters, win or lose. If it does turn out to be the latter, if I were an Italy supporter, I would be very careful how I advertised the fact. Either way, I shall be interested to see what the infection rates are in a couple of weeks’ time.

  • Peter Watson 11th Jul '21 - 11:18am

    Much as I dislike Boris Johnson and his Conservative government, any increase in covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths as a result of the perfect storm of semi-final >> final >> “freedom day” will be because of the selfish, thoughtless and idiotic behaviour of individuals (or in-duh-viduals as Scott Adams might put it).
    It makes it so hard to feel liberal when the devil on the other shoulder is saying the Government should impose rules and discipline and restrictions because people just can’t be trusted to do the right thing – and not only on covid! 🙁
    It sometimes seems that the present-day British condition is characterised as wanting freedom but not responsibility, and blaming others for our own shortcomings and poor choices, whether those “others” are the Government, the EU, immigrants, experts, politicians, managers, unions, etc.
    Rant over! Not sure I feel any better for getting that off my chest though!

  • John Littler 11th Jul '21 - 6:41pm

    There have been reports of English football supporters intimidating and abusing Danish supporters, including women and children. They also booed German and other sides during national anthems.
    This is nationalism gone mad and given licence by this government to reveal itself a great deal more, as fuelled the Leave side and as you hear on Talksport Radio.

  • John Littler 11th Jul ’21 – 6:41pm:
    There have been reports of English football supporters intimidating and abusing Danish supporters, including women and children. They also booed German and other sides during national anthems.

    A minority of football fans have been booing opposing teams and abusing their supporters for decades even if they only come from the other side of town.

    This is nationalism gone mad and given licence by this government to reveal itself a great deal more, as fuelled the Leave side and as you hear on Talksport Radio.

    Sure, if we were still in the EU they would all be quietly sat on the grass sipping tea from a flask and eating cucumber sandwiches. It’s a while ago now, but prior to the EU Referendum the Conservative government “fuelled” the remain side.

  • Helen Dudden 11th Jul '21 - 10:18pm

    I think we need more honesty on what is really happening.
    Like most grandparents I have not seen much of my grandchildren, one of my grandchildren was born with a health condition and we concentrated on what we felt was the correct thing to do. My other grandchild in the EU I have not seen for around four years due to my health condition.
    I don’t think that Johnson has a clue what to do next, I feel the situation should have been a cross party effort, this could highlighted the spending more wisely.
    My concerns are for those who need hospital treatment urgently, of course there are serious delays for those who need other treatment and checks.

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