Coronavirus: Britain's test of large events shows no substantial Covid outbreaks

In this photo taken on May 15, 2021, Leicester City fans attend the FA Cup Final in Wembley Stadium, London. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG, AFP) - No substantial Covid-19 outbreaks were reported among any of the nine pilot events - including the Brit Awards and the FA Cup football final - included in the first phase of a British government study into whether large crowds can safely gather again.

The Events Research Programme included a total of 58,000 participants at events held in April and May at various venues across the country, with only 28 virus cases reported, according to a statement published on Friday (June 25) by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

Eight positive tests were recorded across all three pilot events held at Wembley Stadium, which saw around 30,000 people attend the FA Cup semi-final and final, and League Cup final.

The figures could sway debate over whether to hold the Euro 2020 final at Wembley given the current rapid spread of the coronavirus in England, driven by the Delta variant which was first detected in India. The British government has faced criticism for deciding to allow more than 60,000 people inside Wembley Stadium next month for the last stages of football's European Championship.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi this week said he would prefer to avoid a final "in a country where the risk of infection is of course very high".

London has acknowledged that the latest figures "should be interpreted with extreme caution". It noted that evidence of direct transmission at the events was "challenging to determine" because of a low uptake - just 15 per cent - of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing among attendees before and after the events.

And the total of nine gatherings - also including pop music's Brit Awards and the World Snooker Championship - took place in April and May, a period of "low prevalence" of the virus.

Of the 28 cases, 11 were identified as potentially infectious at an event, with the 17 others identified as potentially infected at or around the time of an event.

Circus nightclub in Liverpool, which hosted nearly 7,000 people over two nights, saw 10 cases, while the World Snooker Championship saw six cases recorded.

The Brit Awards at London's O2 Arena hosted 3,500 guests, of which none later tested positive.

An outdoor festival pilot at Sefton Park in Liverpool attended by more than 6,000 people had two cases, as did a 5km run at Kempton Park in south-east England which had 2,000 participants.

Face coverings, ventilation and testing were all found to control and reduce transmission of the coronavirus at large events, according to the study, which was commissioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in February.

Pinch points - where crowds are more likely to gather, such as indoor toilets - hold the greatest transmission risk.

Since the tests, the emergence of the highly infectious Delta variant has delayed plans for a full reopening of Britain's economy and society, although death rates remain low.

"The findings and learnings will help event organisers plan for large audiences as we move to Step 4 of the roadmap," Oliver Dowden, Britain's Culture Secretary, said in the statement, referring to the government's plans for fully ending lockdown restrictions.

The British government is awaiting results of the second phase of the pilot programme. It was completed this month and included group-stage Euro 2020 matches at Wembley, the England versus New Zealand cricket Test match in Birmingham, and the Royal Ascot horse race meeting.

The third and final phase will include the Wimbledon tennis tournament, Latitude music festival and rugby championships. Results of these events are still being collected.

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