UK's Covid-clear business events pilot paves way forward

Data shows major events can be conducted safely, but vaccination remains vital, say officials.

Harrogate International Centre hosted a government pilot event in July, reaching a maximum of some 3,200 attendees per day.
Harrogate International Centre hosted a government pilot event in July, reaching a maximum of some 3,200 attendees per day.

There were no reported transmissions of Covid-19 at either of the business events that took place as part of the UK government’s Events Research Programme.

And data from the 37 pilot events that made up the Events Research Programme, including sporting events, music concerts and theatre, found case numbers were “largely in line with or below” community infection rates.

The Change Business for Good event at ACC Liverpool and the Home and Gift Buyers Festival at Harrogate Convention Centre did not report any cases who acquired infection around the time of either event. The data does not necessarily mean that there were no transmissions at either event, as figures less than 5 were suppressed due to disclosiveness, but it does mean that transmissions were very close to, if not actually zero at both events.

The Change Business for Good event at ACC Liverpool on 28 April was the first major business event in the UK for more than a year. The event was not socially distanced and there were 149 people in attendance. The event incorporated all of the usual features of business events including plenary and breakout sessions, exhibition space and networking opportunities.

The ONS prevalence rate at the time of the Liverpool event, ie, the estimated average percentage of the population that had Covid-19 at the time of the event, was 0.08%.

For the Harrogate event in July the prevalence rate was considerably higher, at 1.57%, with attendance ranging from 1,036 to 3,205 per day across the four days of the event, yet there were still no reported cases.

The Home and Gift Buyers Festival had a number of crowd management and ventilation strategies in place during the event, namely:

  • Entrances fully staffed by hosts managing visitor and exhibitor arrivals, and security staff manning entry/exit points. Part of their remit was to ensure social distancing in the queuing lanes.
  • Each Event Zone had its own entry/exit point for registration/access control. Gangways were increased throughout the event zones where possible. Guidance provided on site via clear and concise signage and through a communications strategy.
  • Air conditioning units installed throughout marquees, circulating fresh air from outside. Harrogate Convention Centre has upgraded ventilation to ensure 100% fresh air and no recirculation in line with the current guidelines.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said the data shows major events can be conducted safely.

“We’ve shown that we can reintroduce mass sports and cultural events safely but it is important that people remain cautious when mixing in very crowded settings,” he said.

“So that we can keep the football season, theatres and gigs safe with full crowds this winter, I urge sport, music and culture fans to get the vaccine as this is the safest way we can get big events firing on all cylinders once more.”

The event with the largest associated number of cases was the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy at Wembley in July. The data shows 2,295 people at or near Wembley were likely to have already been infected, while another 3,404 potentially caught Covid-19 around the event.

The high numbers have been attributed to a higher underlying community prevalence of Covid-19 and the significant amount of ticketless fans at the stadium.

“Euro 2020 was a unique occasion and it is unlikely we would see a similar impact on Covid-19 cases from future events,” said Dr Jenifer Smith, deputy medical director at Public Health England.

“However, the data does show how easily the virus can spread when there is close contact and this should be a warning to us all as we try and return to a cautious normality once again.”

Source: Meetings & Incentive Travel

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