‘Testing, testing, testing’ - The only solution at present to open live venues to full capacity

15th September 2020

On Tuesday 8th September, the DCMS heard Andrew Lloyd Webber, Owner, LW Theatres; Rebecca Kane Burton, Chief Executive, LW Theatres; Melvin Benn, Managing Director, Festival Republic; Lucy Noble, Artistic and Commercial Director, Royal Albert Hall and Avi Lasarow, Chief Executive, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Prenetics put forward their reasoning for both the need and proposed methods to open live venues at full capacity to allow for the return of audiences to sport, festivals and theatres. 

 

Avi Lasarow has successfully demonstrated through the Premier League and English Cricket Board (ECB) that extensive COVID-19 testing can result in a safe and successful return to live sport, as Prenetics delivered these two mass testing programmes. The ECB also demonstrated that a safe and successful return to sport can occur through the implementation of a bio-secure bubble. These two examples acted as large-scale pilots for the return of live sport, as now the focus needs to turn to the “safe return” of fans to stadiums. 

 

Each and every sports fan coveted the idea of football stadiums having full audiences by the start of October, however this aspiration was acknowledged as rather “ambitious”. This comment was made prior to the government announcement that the new Coronavirus restrictions would require group sizes across the UK to remain at six and under from Monday 14th September.  

 

It was made clear that until there is a vaccine, mass testing is the only way to fill live sporting venues to full capacity. Early into the conversation, Mr Lasarow posed the key difficulty, “It comes down to the question of who is paying for the testing” as the extensive cost of mass testing is one of the clear barriers to this solution. Mr Lasarow announced the need for a decentralised collaborative approach between the public and private sectors in an attempt to achieve the goal of full capacity audiences with the greatest success and efficiency, as the private sector would work “to supplement the point of care testing” developed by the government. In the long term, Mr Lasarow suggested that it is more financially viable to conduct extensive mass testing rather than risk the collapse of all of the live events industries; arts, sport and festivals which, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced, have well and truly reached “the point of no return”. Moreover, it was stated that the cost of testing is reducing and will continue to do so, as it is expected to be a fraction of the budget of the furlough scheme with a hope it will end up costing less than £30. It is fundamental to remember that mass testing is not just for sport, it is a vital requirement for all walks of life with one dovetailing another. 

 

A confident sense of optimism was demonstrated by Mr Lasarow throughout his discussion, specifically on the deployment of a pooling strategy to increase the reach of testing “fivefold overnight” from that of the current capacity of 300,000 individuals a day. This reflects Boris Johnson’s recent proposal of Moonshot testing, a test at home with results in minutes. Undoubtedly, increasing the reach to extents such as this, would drastically change the landscape of testing to subsequently fill sporting venues to full capacity, something fans all across the world have longed for since March. 

 

Technology is “vital to actually making sure access is granted to the right people under the right circumstance”, a fundamental requirement to safely open live venues to full capacity. As this challenge continues, the dramatic increase in testing will be used in addition to the clinical health passport along with the governments Track and Trace app. The linking of these vital health passports to the Track and Trace system is fundamental to achieve the required outcome with the highest level of safety. These technologies require “awareness and adoption” from the public to monitor who has had a test and achieved the required negative result in the obligatory five-day window. 

 

It is these forms of technology which need to become part of ‘the new normal’ to start filling stadiums, theatres and festival grounds. These changes to the technology landscape, understandably create a cause of concern surrounding the security of personal data to achieve the sense of normality that so many desire. This process requires a phased and controlled approach in achieving the goal of filling live venues in the not too distant future. 

 

At present, the live events industry is longing for a collaborative group between the DCMS, Public Health England, the Department of Health, and The Treasury along with figures from the sports, arts and festival industries with the aim of opening live venues to full capacity. Of course, this is in addition to the widespread plea for the rapid development of the required technology to allow us to adapt to the pandemic. Mr Lasarow developed a sense of positivity as he was vocal that Prenetics “are quite optimistic in what the future holds… the science is emerging”. Undoubtedly, there is an overriding desire for live venues to reach full capacity in the not too distant future through a decentralised approach to mass testing, clinical health passports and the track and trace system to give “a hand up to the sector” which so badly needs it.