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ERP data: “No substantial outbreaks” at pilot events

Less than 0.05% of of the 58,000 people who took part in Events Research Programme pilots were infected with Covid-19, government data reveals

By Jon Chapple on 25 Jun 2021

Fans at Sefton Park Pilot, the ERP event held in Liverpool in May

Just 28 cases of Covid-19 were detected among the 58,000 people who participated in the first nine pilot events held as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme (ERP).

Presenting their findings this afternoon (25 June), the group of scientists behind the ERP described the data as reassuring but warned the case numbers must be treated with “extreme caution” given that only 15% of attendees returned voluntary PCR tests before and after the events. “The cases recorded are likely an underestimate of the true number given […] post-event PCR return rates were lower than expected,” reads the report published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

All ticketholders for the first round of ERP shows, which included live music events such as the Sefton Park Pilot music festival and the Brit Awards, were required to present negative lateral-flow tests (LFTs), though it was left to the individual attendee whether to also complete the requested PCR tests, which are more accurate.

The report’s authors also preface the findings by describing the “low prevalence of Covid-19” at the time of the events compared to the time of writing, as well as the “limited scale, scope and design” of the pilots. However “mindful of the caveats”, there were “no substantial outbreaks identified by public health teams and their surveillance systems around any of the events”, they continue.

Eleven of the positive Covid-19 cases were identified as potentially infectious during the event, while a further 17 were deemed to have picked up the virus at or around the time of the pilot, the report says.

A statement from DCMS says the programme has demonstrated 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 a low risk of transmission.”

“With mitigating factors … events can be conducted more safely at increased capacities while maintaining a low risk of transmission”

“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,” comments ERP chief advisor Nicholas Hytner said:

The release of the findings comes the day after industry body LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) filed a lawsuit against the government to force the release of the delayed ERP data.

In a statement, a LIVE spokesperson says: “We are pleased that the government has finally published some of the ERP research but it is incredibly disappointing that it took the live music and the theatre industry launching legal action yesterday to force them to do so.

“We will of course read the report with interest but we are pleased that there were no Covid outbreaks associated with any of the pilots detected, either by testing or by a general increase in community incidence. It is also pleasing to see that the air quality of the indoor events was, in almost all cases, the same or better than being in an office for a short working day.

“It is completely unfair that our industry finds itself stuck in seemingly-interminable rounds of research before we can open, when no such research is being done for other places such as restaurants, shops or public transport. With sensible mitigations, including simple Covid-certification, there is no reason why we should not be able to reopen on 19 July.”

“For festivals … we simply cannot get stuck in endless rounds of pilots”

“With 60,000 fans expected at Wembley for the Euros, thousands at Wimbledon and a capacity crowd of 140,000 at the Silverstone Grand Prix, it is only right that major live music events are also able to proceed safely,” echoes Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, CEO of UK Music. “Now we have evidence showing events can take place safely, the government must now give the green light for events to go ahead without social distancing from 19 July,” he adds.

UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden says the government will use the evidence from the first phase of ERP events, as well as recent and upcoming pilots such as Download Pilot and the forthcoming Latitude Festival, to inform its actions in the weeks ahead of 19 July, the delayed date for the lifting of restrictions (so-called ‘step four’ of the government’s roadmap), though “no decisions” have yet been taken on the “full reopening of mass events”.

“We welcome the government finally publishing the findings of the ERP phase one pilot events. Although wide-ranging, in many respects the report tells us what we already know: Most significantly, that there were no substantial outbreaks at these events, with 28 cases across nine events and 58,000 attendees. Additionally, outdoor spaces are generally lower risk than indoor, mitigation measures can reduce and manage risk, and audiences will comply with pre-event testing and other measures to attend an event,” says Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals.

“Following this positive outcome, what we need now is clear guidance from government on exactly what the expectations are for festivals around testing regimes and other protocols this summer. We are actively engaging with government on this. For festivals who are still planning, it is clearly not a conversation that can wait until 19 July. We welcome further festival pilot events as an opportunity for the ERP to scale up and develop the knowledge base around reopening safely, but we also simply cannot get stuck in endless rounds of pilots.

“The objective must be to reopen festivals safely with the right mitigations in place at step four.”


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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