The death toll after a stampede outside a game at the African Cup of Nations football tournament in Cameroon has risen to eight, as witnesses blamed security officials for making fatal errors and competition organisers decided to suspend further games at the stadium.
Another seven people are in serious condition in hospital after the crush on Monday night at the game between hosts Cameroon and Comoros at the Olembe Stadium in the capital, Yaounde.
The African football governing body has moved the next game due to take place at the stadium on Sunday to another stadium in Yaounde. Another two games at the Olembe, a semi-final and the final of the African football championship on February 6, could also be moved.
“I have given the local organising committee … up to Friday to tell me who was responsible for the accident, who shares the blame and additional safety and security measures taken to protect football fans, players and match officials,” said Patrice Motsepe, president of the Confederation of African Football.
“Our priority is the safety of people and if we are not assured that the stadium offers that safety, we will not accept matches to be played there again.”
The death toll increased after two more fans were pronounced dead outside Messassi Hospital, police said. Injured people had initially been rushed there by police and civilians trying to help. The hospital quickly became overwhelmed.
A total of 38 people were hurt in the stampede. The remaining 31 had slight to moderate injuries.
The injured are being treated at four different hospitals, communication minister Rene Sadi said. On Tuesday morning, people gathered at the hospitals searching for missing family members.
The crush came when fans struggled to get into the stadium to watch the home team play in a highly anticipated knockout game at Africa’s top football tournament.
The tragedy may have been connected to fans trying to avoid Covid-19 checks. Organisers have made it compulsory for fans to show proof of negative virus tests and be vaccinated against Covid-19 if they want to attend games at the African Cup.
They need to go through that health screening as well as security checks at stadiums.
Local TV stations broadcast footage showing people jumping over security fences to avoid checks and there are reports that police and security were overwhelmed.
The Cameroon government said 57,000 people were at the stadium when the crowd was meant to be restricted to a maximum of 40,000 because of the virus. The Olembe has a capacity of 60,000.
A witness said the stampede at the south entrance of the stadium happened after supporters were directed by security officials towards an entrance gate that was locked. The gate was eventually opened, the witness said, causing a surge and people were trampled.
Mr Motsepe said the initial investigation will centre on why that gate at the stadium was shut.
“Who closed that gate? And why did they close that gate?” he said.
World football body Fifa released a statement expressing its “deepest condolences” to the families and friends of the victims. Fifa president Gianni Infantino attended the African Cup’s opening ceremony at the Olembe Stadium two weeks ago.
Cameroon President Paul Biya also ordered an investigation into the tragedy.