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UK targets “special summer” with new test events

Upcoming major events such as the Brit Awards and FA Cup final may be run as ‘pilot’ events designed to trial the return of large, non-socially distanced audiences to UK venues, culture minister Oliver Dowden has said.

In an interview published in yesterday’s Sunday Times, Dowden, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said the British government will use a dozen events held in late April and May to test allowing spectators to return to sports venues, theatres and nightclubs without social distancing. Currently, under prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ out of the UK’s latest lockdown, all restrictions on indoor gatherings are set to be lifted from 21 June.

Among the 12 events observed under the so-called Events Research Programme (ERP), said Dowden, could be the World Snooker Championship final, held at the 980-seat Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on 17 April; football’s FA Cup final, staged at Wembley Stadium (90,000-seat) on 15 May; and the UK music industry’s main annual awards ceremony, the Brits, which are scheduled to return to the O2 (20,000-cap.) in London on 11 May.

According to the BBC, the government hopes up to 20,000 fans could attend the FA Cup match – double the 10,000 people who will be permitted at outdoor events in England from 17 May.

Other ERP events will take place at a nightclub, a comedy club and a conference venue, according to Dowden’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

“These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing”

Brits organiser BPI said last autumn that it is planning for the awards – which traditionally take place in February – to return with a “spectacular event” in May. The 40th Brit Awards took place in February 2021, a month before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of the O2 and other venues. IQ has contacted the Brit Awards for comment on the 2021 event.

According to DCMS, the ERP will use a range of “non-pharmaceutical” methods to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at the events, including pre- and post-event testing, enhanced ventilation, novel venue lay-outs and the monitoring fans’ movements and interactions.

‘These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing. We will be guided by the science and medical experts, but will work flat out to make that happen,” says Dowden. “We want to get the people back to enjoying what they love and ensure some of our most important growth industries get back on their feet.

“These are important steps towards the safe and special summer we all crave, and that I’m fully focused on delivering.”


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