The initial phase of the government’s pilot scheme ERP (Event Research Programme) was intended to explore the impact of large events on the UK’s R number (meaning the ‘rate of infection’). The ERP was commissioned by PM Boris Johnson in February this year as an integral aspect of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Between the 17th April and the 15th May, many large events – from the BRIT awards to the FA Cup final – were organised for the purpose of determining how COVID-19 spreads in situations where social distancing is not reasonably possible. The pilot selection was based on event settings that would provide “substantial data and transferable learning” that could be generalised across many settings, as the report’s executive summary states.
This week, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has released the first phase of the ERP’s findings. The results have been promising; the report said there were “no substantial outbreaks identified by public health teams and their surveillance systems around any of the events”. In total there have been 28 cases identified, with 11 of these cases being recognized as potentially infectious at an event, and a further 17 recognized as potentially infected at or around the time of an event.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden explained to the media on the governments’ website: “Our innovative and science led Events Research Programme is helping us to better understand how the risk of transmission at major events can be effectively mitigated. The findings and learnings will help event organisers plan for large audiences as we move to Step 4 of the roadmap. I would like to thank this programme’s chief advisers Nicholas Hytner and David Ross, all the event organisers, and the scientists and researchers for their important work.”
These results pertain solely to the first phase of the ERP. Whilst they are promising, there are still many conditions that must be met if the nightlife industry and other similar sectors are able to fully reopen. We are yet to find out the full ramifications of the second phase of pilot events, which have already been completed.
These events include the group stage UEFA EURO 2020 matches hosted at Wembley Stadium, the Download Pilot music festival, and the England v New Zealand test match at Edgbaston. The third phase of the ERP will include Wimbledon Championships, The Open Championship, Goodwood Festival of Speed, Home and Gift 2021, Rugby League’s Challenge Cup and 1895 Cup Finals.
However, ERP Chief Advisor Nicholas Hytner still welcomed the news: “These events are so important for our wellbeing, our sense of community and togetherness, and they have been sorely missed. 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. The findings from the first phase of this programme will help facilitate the return of what so many of us enjoy: attending exciting and top-quality events throughout the country when it is safe to do so.”
Meanwhile, ERP Chief Advisor David Ross said that “despite the huge challenges presented by the pandemic the events industry has worked tirelessly alongside the Government to try and make this happen. It has been a huge team effort and the research and data that we are publishing today will be invaluable for anyone hosting an event once the economy fully reopens.”
In the meantime, these newly published results are a great start for an industry that has received nothing but setbacks over the last eighteen months.
Words by Rebecca Clayton