Exclusive: Social distancing not needed at big events, Boris Johnson to be told

Social distancing for large events can be scrapped from June 21, Boris Johnson will be told next week after initial results from a pilot scheme found no spike in Covid cases among attendees. 

An interim report into the reopening trials will advise the Prime Minister that crowds can return safely and without distancing provided that measures such as staggering entries and good ventilation are in place.

Government scientists have been monitoring the impact of letting fans back into an FA Cup semi-final, Carabao Cup final and World Snooker Championship.

Conclusions from the early data are contained in the report and a covering note to be given to ministers next week, details of which The Telegraph has learned.

The science board on the Events Research Programme, being run by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has found that many of the protective measures put in place in the trial events appear to be working.

It is the clearest indication since Mr Johnson revealed his roadmap out of restrictions in February that sports matches, theatres and cinemas can reopen with packed crowds in June.

Mark Selby et al. on a stage in front of a crowd: Mark Selby considers his next shot in front of a restricted crowd at the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield - George Wood/PA© Provided by The Telegraph Mark Selby considers his next shot in front of a restricted crowd at the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield – George Wood/PA

A source familiar with the report said ministers will be told that the pilots have shown “there are some effective ways to manage risk that could remove the need to have social distancing at events”.

Mitigating measures to be named in the report include staggered entry, clear communication with attendees and better ventilation at indoor venues.

The conclusions will be framed as an “initial view” from scientists, with more pilot events coming next month, as well as reflecting the low current levels of Covid in the country.

A string of decisions about the shape of life in Britain for the rest of the year as the pandemic eases are expected in the next two months.

Rows are already playing out about when and how borders will reopen for summer holidays, why vaccinated people cannot enjoy more freedoms and the degree to which Covid “passports” should be used.

On Thursday it emerged that British and foreign tourists offering proof of either vaccination or a negative PCR test will be able to visit France again from June 9, according to leaked plans.

Two major stages remain in Mr Johnson’s roadmap – May 17, when indoor mixing will be allowed again and the overseas holiday ban could lift, and June 21, when the vast majority of other restrictions are expected to end.

The Government has been trialling the reopening of events with large crowds, both indoor and outdoor, in the hope of allowing full reopenings from the June date.

The events were designed in conjunction with government scientists who monitor everything from Covid cases levels and air flows to crowd behaviour and points of gathering.

Four thousand people attended the FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton, with 8,000 people at the Carabao Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham, both of which were played at Wembley this month.

Up to 1,000 people a day have gone to the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, which began on April 17. Oliver Downden, the Culture Secretary, is expected to visit on Friday to watch the semi-final action.

It is understood that, while data is still coming in and more events are to take place in the coming weeks, there has been no alarming spike in virus cases among participants.

The interim report from the science board monitoring the events crunches the data that has emerged, detailing findings and possible learnings.

A heavy emphasis has been put on testing, and for each trial participants must take both a PCR and lateral flow test before and after the event.

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The report is understood to make it clear that testing would be likely to be a key part of reopening large events. How that would be done is still being worked out.

Concerns have been raised about people having to take lateral flow tests the day before the events, with fears that would be too high a barrier for some. When the reopenings eventually happen, attendees would not have to take PCR tests – that feature is only in place for the trials to ensure that no new cases are missed.

The recommendations to government ministers offer a hint of what might await people when football matches, theatres and business conferences reopen. Their entry into venues could be staggered by time to avoid the prospect of bunching in aisles and doorways, and fan machines could be put around venues to ensure air flow remains high.

The upside is that people could be able to sit alongside each other in big groups, bringing back the sense of cohesion many football fans say they have missed during lockdown. However, people may still have to wear face masks.

A separate review into wider social distancing rules beyond just large events is ongoing and due to report back by June 21.

David Ross, the Carphone warehouse founder, and Sir Nicholas Hytner, the theatre director, are advising Mr Johnson on the reopening of large events.

Ultimately, the final decisions will lie with Mr Johnson, who is likely to wait on the data from pilot events coming next month before announcing the way forward.


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