Germany’s Bundesliga football league returned to action in empty stadiums on Saturday, as swimmers dove into the waves at newly reopened beaches in France, Italy and Greece after coronavirus lockdowns were eased.
The reopenings are a tentative step towards a return to normality in some of the countries worst affected by the pandemic, which has killed more than 307,000 people, infected over 4.5 million, wrought vast economic havoc and brought life to a halt.
But as governments lift restrictions to boost their stagnant economies, there have been widespread fears of a second wave of infections that could plunge the world back into lockdown.
Such fears have delayed the return of team sport and the Bundesliga became the first major European football league to resume when matches kicked off at 3.30pm (1330 GMT) in front of vacant, echoing stadiums.
“It’s sad that matches are played in empty stadiums, but it’s better than nothing — the more we keep to health rules, the sooner we can return to normality,” said 45-year-old Borussia Dortmund fan Marco Perz, with a beer in hand as he prepared to watch the game on TV.
Players will have to follow strict hygiene guidelines — former Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou was suspended by Hertha Berlin for shaking hands with team-mates.
“The whole world will be looking at Germany, to see how we get it done,” said Hansi Flick, the boss of league leaders Bayern Munich.
“If we manage to ensure that the season continues, it will send a signal to all leagues.”
Russia has announced its own football league will return next month and has pushed ahead with plans to lift restrictions despite recording its highest daily death toll on Saturday, with 119 fatalities.
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