Angela Merkel has openly criticised Boris Johnson over the number of England fans being allowed into Wembley during Euro 2020.
The German chancellor, speaking at a televised joint press conference with Johnson on Friday, said attendance numbers were a “bit too much” in light of the UK’s third wave of coronavirus cases.
For England’s three group stage games, Wembley’s capacity was limited to 22,500. This was increased to 40,000 for the second round Germany match on Tuesday.
Saturday’s quarter-final match against Ukraine will be played in Rome, but both semi-final games, as well as the final, will be played at Wembley in front of 60,000 fans.
Watch: ‘Ecstatic’ England fans celebrate victory over Germany
Germany’s three group stage games in Munich, by comparison, had been limited to 13,000 and Merkel said at the Chequers press conference that she had raised her concerns about Wembley with the prime minister.
“I say this with grave concern,” she told reporters. “I have also said this to the prime minister.
“We in Germany, as you know, had less people attend games in the Munich stadium but the British government will obviously take its own decision.
“But I am very much concerned whether it is not a bit too much.”
Earlier this week, it emerged 397 COVID-19 cases in Scotland were linked to fans who had attended the England game at Wembley on 18 June.
A further 897 infections were linked to ticketless supporters who travelled to London, with thousands of Scottish fans packing out landmarks such as Leicester Square.
Johnson hit back, saying sporting events are being opened up in a “very careful and controlled manner”.
He added: “The crucial point is that here in the UK we have now built up a very considerable wall of immunity by our vaccination programme.
“In the UK almost 85% have had a first dose and more than 63% have had two jabs. Since you get more than 80% protection from one dose and 93% protection from two doses there is a very great degree of resistance to [the] virus in the UK population.”
The PM’s repetition of “in the UK” when referring to its vaccine rollout could be seen as a jibe at Merkel, with Germany’s previous vaccine programme struggles well-documented.
Meanwhile, immediately before Merkel discussed Wembley attendances, Johnson had dismissed concerns about England’s progress in the tournament aiding the spread of COVID among the wider population watching the games.
The PM was asked if he was concerned the “jubilation” of England fans gathering in groups could cause social distancing measures to “fall by the wayside”.
Johnson, though, appeared unconcerned as he said: “It’s important we all continue to take care, but obviously what you can see from the pattern of the pandemic is that the vaccines have played a pretty decisive role in breaking the link between infection and death and serious disease.
“The level of vaccination in this country is now very high and that’s why we are confident we will be able to proceed with step four [to end England’s lockdown] on 19 July.”
In the week up to Thursday, there had been 146,360 COVID cases, up 72% on the previous seven-day period.
However, this exponential growth in cases has not translated into huge numbers of hospital admissions and deaths as happened in the first and second waves of the pandemic.
Due to the vaccines, the rapid increase in cases is causing less serious illness, as demonstrated by these three charts.
Merkel had been visiting Chequers, the PM’s official country residence, for bilateral talks with Johnson amid concerns over plans to restrict travel to the EU.
She told the press conference double-jabbed Britons should be able to have a holiday in Europe without quarantine within the “foreseeable future”.
Watch: Merkel on double-jabbed Brits holidaying in Europe