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Face masks and social distancing to be scrapped at lockdown easing trial events

Sam Hancock
·3-min read
<p>A vaccination centre at Wembley Stadium, where just 4,000 fans will be allowed to attend FA Cup fixtures in April and May</p> (Getty)

A vaccination centre at Wembley Stadium, where just 4,000 fans will be allowed to attend FA Cup fixtures in April and May

(Getty)

Face coverings and social distancing will be suspended at a handful of venues during a government trial of the safe reopening of large events.

The Events Research Programme (ERP) – co-chaired by theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner and co-founder of The Carphone Warehouse David Ross – will test a range of safety measures in its first scheduled 10 to 15 events in the next few weeks, including the FA Cup Final on 15 May.

Its aim is to establish which methods work best to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission in larger crowds, paving the way for large events to resume later in the year.

The findings will inform ministers’ decisions over ending social distancing on 21 June, when Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown reaches its final stage.

The programme intends to investigate the enforcement of testing on entry while abandoning “non-pharmaceutical interventions” (NPIs) – actions to mitigate coronavirus such as masks and distancing.

The ERP’s first phase includes the FA Cup Final, the semi final and the League Cup Final all at Wembley Stadium, the World Snooker Championships at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre and outdoor cinema, business exhibitions and a warehouse club night in Liverpool.

But not all those listed will allow the suspension of NPIs to go ahead. All major sporting events – football and snooker – are set to require attendees to wear face masks and adhere to social distancing as well as to be tested on entry.

For all other events, to be held in Liverpool, entry to venues will be subject to a negative test result, in much the same way that international travel has been permitted in recent months. Anyone unable to provide evidence of a negative test result can be turned away at the door.

Face coverings and social distancing will be abandoned as a test of what works best.

In guidance published on the gov.uk website on Friday, the ERP is to make safety its “main priority” and that “pilots will be designed in a scientifically controlled way”.

“Decisions will be guided by a Science Board of relevant experts including senior Public Health England representation,” it adds.

Those specialists will take into account public health data including case rates, R number, hospital admissions and infection rates in England.

The Science Board will provide analysis and ensure events are following ethical and scientific principles and will generate evidence of sufficient quality to inform decisions, according to the ERP.

A Joint Programme Board will inform government departments prior to further re-openings in June.

On the potential risks of the study, the programme says: “We have put careful consideration into the timing of this study, particularly with regard to progress of the vaccination programme.

“Over 98 per cent of people at risk of death from Covid-19 have been vaccinated, which significantly lowers the risk posed.”

It comes as scientists warned that a spike in coronavirus cases related to the South African variant could lead to parts of London entering local lockdowns.

The boroughs of Lambeth, Wandsworth, Southwark and Barnet have set up additional testing facilities to process thousands of people who live and work in the area after a number of cases of the more contagious variant were detected.

In the UK, 600 cases of the SA variant have been detected, up by 56 in a week.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport stressed precautions have been taken to ensure crowd safety at the trial events – such as allowing only 4,000 out of a possible 90,000 capacity to attend events at Wembley.

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