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Testing debate rages amid hopes for German football return in May

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Berlin (AFP)

The Bundesliga hopes to get the go-ahead from the German government to resume in May, yet a debate is raging as to whether there will be enough testing available for the coronavirus to keep players safe.

League football was suspended in mid-March in Germany until at least April 30 to help limit the spread of the virus, but the German Football League (DFL) hopes matches can resume early next month.

If the authorities give the green light, the Bundesliga could be the first top European league to restart and could potentially make German football the focus of a global audience.

One proposal is for games to be played behind closed doors without spectators -- dubbed 'ghost games' in German -- with each of the 36 clubs in the top two tiers testing their players, coaches and backroom staff every three to four days.

Only those players or staff who test positive for the coronavirus would be quarantined -- not entire teams -- with the league hoping the season can be completed by June 30.

The date is important as it would secure around 300 million euros ($326 million) from television deals alone, which could reportedly save some clubs from insolvency.

However, the plan to resume next month would require around 20,000 tests spread across the 36 teams -- 18 clubs in the Bundesliga and the same number in the second tier.

There are concerns that testing footballers would put unnecessary strain on the health system in Germany, which has 133,830 official cases of coronavirus and 3,868 deaths, according to Friday's figures.

"We don't have infinite testing capacities (in Germany)," virologist Ulf Dittmer told newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten.

"I don't know whether it is ethically justifiable to carry out 20,000 tests on people who are not actually a risk group and who do not have symptoms."

- 'Sheer mockery' -

However, a senior figure from Berlin-based Accredited Laboratories in Medicine (ALM), which oversees 200 laboratories in Germany, says they could cope with the extra demand.

"Even if the 36 clubs were to test their staff every two days with 40-50 people involved, we would still be at less than half a percent of the testing capacity," ALM board member Dr. Evangelos Kotsopoulos told German daily Bild.

"I also cannot imagine that the intention of the clubs is to use tests that would be medically necessary for other people."

According to Bild, ALM's figures for the 107 laboratories that most recently supplied data show testing has increased to 110,000 per day for a total of 550,000 tests per week.

However, there are also concerns about the quality of some testing.

Spiegel magazine reported Friday that 30 players and staff at Eintracht Frankfurt underwent two types of testing at the same time after two players and two coaches became infected.

In seven cases -- almost a quarter of the samples -- the results differed.

There are also voices within German football who question the return of the Bundesliga during the pandemic.

"An imminent continuation of the season would be sheer mockery of the rest of society," said supporters' group Fanszenen Deutschlands in a statement on Thursday.

"Professional football has long been sick enough and should continue to be quarantined."

In a sign of potential opposition from players, Bayern Munich defender Niklas Suele told AFP subsidiary SID in an interview "there are many more important things than football at the moment".

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