Just 28 cases of Covid-19 were detected from nine large-scale pilot events, involving a total of 58,000 people, that were held as part of a government analysis examining the feasibility of reopening society.
Scientists behind the Events Research Programme (ERP), commissioned in February 2021 to help shape the roadmap out of lockdown, described the findings as “reassuring” but warned the case numbers must be treated with “extreme caution” given the low number of people who tested themselves after the events.
They acknowledged that the low uptake of PCR testing before and after the nine pilot tests meant it was “challenging to determine” the full nature of Covid transmission at the different venues, but said “no substantial outbreaks” were linked to the events.
The ERP is designed to explore how the reopening of mass events can be conducted safely, with and without social distancing or mask wearing, while limiting the transmission of Covid-19 as much as possible.
It drew its results from nine pilots held in the UK between 17 April and 15 May, including the FA Cup Final, the Brit Awards and World Snooker Championships, and involved a total of 58,000 participants, who were required to prove a negative lateral flow test (LFT) as a condition of entry to each venue.
All attendees were also asked to take a voluntary pre- and post-event PCR test to aid the programme’s research, but just 15 per cent of people complied with this, raising the possibly that some individuals may have been infectious or infected at the time of the event but went undetected due to the inaccuracy of the LFTs.
The report confirms that 28 cases of Covid-19 were recorded from all available data during the ERP’s first nine events. Eleven of these cases were identified as potentially infectious during the event, and a further 17 were deemed to have picked up the virus at and around the time of the event.
Professor Iain Buchan, who was involved in the research, said that the cases were swiftly dealt with by local health authorities and that none led to any major outbreaks.
Indoor events including the Circus nightclub in Liverpool, which hosted nearly 7,000 people over two nights, saw 10 cases recorded. Six cases were reported from 10,000 people who attended the World Snooker Championship over 17 days. And no cases were reported from the Brit Awards, which involved 3,500 participants.
A range of measures to combat transmission Covid-19 were used at the events, which were held across the country, including staggered entry and exit times, ventilation, social distancing and face masks.
The authors of the research “acknowledge” that the low numbers detected “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.”
The report also concluded that events with high crowd density and proximity could potentially pose a greater transmission risk. It highlighted potential ‘pinch points’ at events, such as toilets or concession stands, where people may congregate for extended periods.
The scientists did not say the results of their study weaken the recent decision to increase the capacity of Wembley Stadium to 60,000 for the finals of Euro 2020 – a move that has been questioned by a number of experts in recent days.
A second phase of pilot events has also been completed, with data set to be analysed from the group stage matches of Euro 2020 hosted at Wembley Stadium, the Download Pilot music festival in Leicestershire and Royal Ascot, which have all taken place across the past month.
One of the key tools used to facilitate the running of the pilot events was the lateral flow test, which are far less accurate than the laboratory-based PCR tests.
Analysis has shown the LFDs correctly identify, on average, 72 per cent of people who are infected with the virus and have symptoms. In those without symptoms, this figure drops to 58 per cent. But limited data makes it hard to draw firm conclusions, while accuracy varies between the different brands of LFTs.
Carbon dioxide detecters were also fitted at some indoor venues, including the Crucible, home to the World Snooker Championships, to monitor ventilation levels and assess air flow.