Manchester United officials claim the club’s Old Trafford stadium is ready to hold 23,500 people while respecting social distancing rules.

United, who play at England’s largest club football stadium, said actions completed ahead of the planned return of fans in October mean it can safely fill a third of Old Trafford’s 72,000 seats.

The club, who last welcomed fans on March 8, said in a statement that it had put “rigorous plans in place to make Old Trafford as safe as possible for fans when they are allowed back”. Safety measures include staggered arrival times and temperature checks before entry to minimise risks.

Plans for stadiums to be reopened in October were postponed by the government because of the resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

Collette Roche, Manchester United’s chief operating officer, said: “We were really disappointed when the government decided not to allow fans back in the stadium in October because we’ve got everything in place to make sure we can do so safely.

“We’ve got all the COVID security measures and other processes ready to go. We spent around two months working with the government guidelines to develop the right processes and measures to make sure that we can have around 23,500 people in this stadium safely social distancing.

“The government gave us guidelines and it’s those guidelines that we have followed. I’m convinced that we would be able to do so safely.”

Roche stressed that public health is the club’s No.1 priority, but said it was unfair for football fans to be treated differently from other forms of entertainment.

“It’s quite bemusing to understand why people can gather in other settings such as on an aeroplane or a restaurant, or even in a cinema to watch football, when we know we’ve got the plans and the process is ready to deliver a match day here safely,” she said.

Meanwhile, Germany has reimposed a ban on fans from attending stadiums following a spike in COVID-19 cases.

At a virtual meeting on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of the federal states decided among other measures that all professional sports including the Bundesliga must be played behind closed doors. The ban will be imposed after this weekend and last throughout November.

Responding to the ban, Bundesliga officials said in a statement: “There is no doubt that the worsening pandemic situation requires additional efforts in all areas of life.

“In the past few weeks, the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs have spent a lot of time devising hygiene concepts for the effective protection of stadium spectators and coordinating these with the responsible authorities on site.

“Building on this, fans and clubs have implemented hygiene and distance rules almost without exception in a disciplined manner wherever possible and have thus lived up to their responsibility.

“It is therefore unfortunate if this is temporarily no longer possible. We hope that the measures adopted will have a quick and lasting effect on society as a whole.”

Fans returned to German stadiums at the start of the 2020-21 season, with clubs allowed to bring back up to 20% of their fans if local health authorities approved their hygiene concepts and infection numbers remained below a seven-day incidence of 35.

Borussia Dortmund, in North Rhine-Westphalia, recorded the highest attendance of the season when 11,500 fans watched their 4-0 win over SC Freiburg in early October. However, champions Bayern Munich, located in Bavaria, have played all their home games behind closed doors.

Image: Abhijit Tembhekar from Pune, INDIA/Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)/Edited for size