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  • Mitigation measures can be used to reduce and manage risks associated with large events
  • Theatre, stadia, event spaces and outdoor sites trialled at increasing capacities drawing conclusions that are transferable across industry sectors
  • Pilots have been run in a structured, scientifically and ethically robust way to enable events in the programme to happen at a scale not previously tested since the start of the pandemic 
  • Pioneering pilot studies included:
  • Audience numbers increasing to 100% capacity in a theatre-setting at the 17-day World Snooker Championships 
  • Over 13,000 people attending dance and music pilot events without social distancing across a bank holiday weekend in Liverpool
  • More than 20,000 people at Wembley for the FA Cup Final with comprehensive pre-event testing – then the largest scale pilot of its kind.
  • Report finds events with high crowd density and proximity could potentially pose a greater transmission risk 
  • Phase three of the Events Research Programme will further examine transmission data and build on evidence base of low case rates from phase one

The government has published the report of the first phase of its ground-breaking Events Research Programme (ERP) which has helped to understand how the risk of transmission can be reduced at large events when mitigating measures are introduced.  

The study gathered significant data on behaviour, movement, ventilation and testing and has shown that with mitigating factors, such as social distancing at pinch points, face coverings and staggered entry and exit times, events can be conducted more safely at increased capacities while maintaining low risk of transmission.

It concluded that:

  • Both indoor and outdoor events carry levels of transmission risk but ‘pinch points’ in venues where attendees may congregate for extended periods carry greater transmission risk 
  • Large, indoor with high crowd density and proximity may pose a higher potential risk of transmission as a result of close proximity and poor ventilation
  • Mitigations such as face coverings, ventilation, testing, restrictions on food and drink, and social distancing/capacity caps all contributed to reducing transmission risk 
  • Compliance with social distancing, face covering and testing requirements was generally high across all events where they were required
  • Low uptake of PCR testing at many events meant evidence of direct transmission at events was challenging to determine
  • Nearly all CO2 levels recorded at the pilot events were within the bounds of reasonable ventilation benchmarks with outdoor spaces clearly better for ventilation than indoors. 

The ERP was commissioned by the Prime Minister in February 2021 as part of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, and is designed to explore how reopening of events can be conducted safely, including without social distancing, whilst limiting the transmission of COVID-19 as much as possible. 

The aim of the review was to build an evidence base to inform how the public could return as safely as possible to attend events such as sport, theatre, live music and business events by conducting pilot events across a range of settings and sectors. Pilots have been run in a structured, scientifically and ethically robust way to enable events in the programme to happen at a scale not previously tested since the start of the pandemic. 

The programme involved a total of 58,000 participants at venues across the country including Liverpool, Sheffield and London. It was supported by event organisers, local authority and public health teams, national and local government officials and nine scientific research teams from five UK universities. The work was overseen by an independently-chaired science and ethics board.

The phase one programme required all attendees to prove a negative lateral flow test as a minimum condition of entry into the events. All attendees were also asked to take a voluntary pre and post event PCR test to aid the programme’s research. Pilot events tested a range of mitigating factors including staggered entry and exit times and ventilation in venues as well as testing the suspension of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as face masks and social distancing for research purposes.

The report confirms that 28 cases of Covid-19 were recorded from all available data during the ERP’s first nine events. The report acknowledges that these numbers reflect the rigorous testing regime in place for attendance at each event and relatively low levels of community prevalence of Covid-19 at the time of running the first phase of pilots. 

Of these 28 cases, the report has found 11 cases were identified as potentially infectious at an event, and a further 17 were identified as potentially infected at or around the time of an event.

Indoor events including Circus nightclub, which hosted nearly 7,000 people over two nights, saw seven cases recorded. The World Snooker Championship saw five cases recorded from over 10,000 attendees over 17 days. The BRIT Awards, which saw 3,500 people attend the event at London’s O2 Arena, recorded no cases. 

All three pilot events held at Wembley Stadium, which saw a total of almost 30,000 people attend the FA Cup Semi Final, Carabao Cup Final and FA Cup Final combined saw just one case recorded at the Carabao Cup Final. The ERP’s outdoor festival pilot at Sefton Park, in which over 6,000 people attended saw just one case, with the Reunion 5k run at Kempton Park also recording just one case from nearly 2,000 attendees. 

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

“Our innovative and science led Events Research Programme is helping us to better understand how the risk of transmission at major events can be effectively mitigated.

“The findings and learnings will help event organisers plan for large audiences as we move to Step 4 of the roadmap. 

“I would like to thank this programme’s chief advisers Nicholas Hytner and David Ross, all the event organisers, and the scientists and researchers for their important work.”

ERP Chief Advisor Nicholas Hytner said:

“These events are so important for our wellbeing, our sense of community and togetherness, and they have been sorely missed. 

 “This programme has shown that through the public demonstrating their status we have been able to track the virus, creating a safer space for the public to get back to the events they love.”

“The findings from the first phase of this programme will help facilitate the return of what so many of us enjoy: attending exciting and top quality events throughout the country when it is safe to do so.”

ERP Chief Advisor David Ross said: 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many changes upon our daily lives, including restrictions on a wide range of events that have simply not been possible due to the public health risks. 

“The invaluable data we have collected from the work of the Events Research Programme will be crucial when considering the re-opening of events in Step 4 of the Roadmap.”

A second phase of pilot events has completed, with group stage UEFA EURO 2020 matches hosted at Wembley Stadium, the Download Pilot music festival, the England v New Zealand test match at Edgbaston and Royal Ascot having taken place this month. Research into the events is still being gathered and analysed by the ERP science team. 

The government is currently in live discussion with business, cultural and sporting events to include them in an expanded third phase designed around trialling testing and other COVID-secure measures, including the use of  NHS COVID Pass, in allowing crowds back safely and efficiently. 

The third phase of the ERP will include Wimbledon Championships, The Open Championship, Goodwood Festival of Speed, Home and Gift 2021, Rugby League’s Challenge Cup and 1895 Cup Finals. Latitude and the Grange Opera Festival. Further events will be added in due course. 

The pilots will be subject to local and national public health guidance. The findings from the events will feed into the government’s review of certification. 

The pilots will continue to examine a range of settings, venue types, and activity types so that the data is generalisable, and findings can inform thinking on the reopening of similar settings across multiple sectors. 

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