Ministers will take a significant step towards the return to normal life next month by holding ‘pilot’ events for the reopening of football stadiums, nightclubs and theatres ahead of Boris Johnson’s ‘freedom day’ in June.
The events, starting with the FA Cup semi-finals and the world snooker championships on April 17, are expected to use a combination of pre-admission Covid testing and social distancing to allow the return of crowds – and give the battered economy a much-needed boost.
The Prime Minister will then receive a report on the results of the pilots, before giving the green light to the end of all restrictions on June 21.
David Silva of Manchester City and Vincent Kompany celebrate with the FA Cup Manchester City v Watford FA Cup Final football match, Wembley Stadium in 2019
Last night, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said Ministers were working ‘flat out’ to get people ‘back to enjoying what they love’
Ministers hope a full programme of sporting and cultural events over the summer will prove a useful distraction if the foreign travel industry is unable to open up fully before the autumn.
Last night, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said Ministers were working ‘flat out’ to get people ‘back to enjoying what they love’.
Whitehall sources said between 10,000 and 20,000 people could be admitted to football stadiums if they can demonstrate a negative Covid test, with fans being allowed to travel together to the matches.
The Premier League is planning to allow fans to attend games during the final two rounds of matches this season, with supporters allowed into stadiums from May 17.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said that to ensure all 20 clubs were able to play a home game with fans present, a round of fixtures would be shifted to May 18-20, with the final round of games now on May 23.
A comedy club and nightclub in Liverpool will also be used in the pilot, with revellers allowed to dance in a non-socially distanced way if they can provide evidence of a negative test result.
It has not been decided whether masks will also be required.
The Government will work with event organisers and local authorities to monitor the effects of holding more than a dozen events this spring as part of the Events Research Programme, which will also include theatre productions, live music, weddings and conferences. The settings will range from small indoor venues with a capacity of 200 people to large outdoor venues such as Wembley Stadium.
A source said Mr Dowden was working closely with the Covid Certification Review, a cross-Government assessment of the practicality of issuing certificates confirming an individual’s Covid test and vaccine status.
The source said: ‘The testing plans are still being examined, but the likelihood is that we will use lateral flow tests which take just half an hour to give a result.
A comedy club and nightclub in Liverpool will also be used in the pilot, with revellers allowed to dance in a non-socially distanced way if they can provide evidence of a negative test result
‘Testing will largely be delivered through the community testing network, with results validated by the event organisers before ticket-holders are let in to the venue.
‘Entry will be subject to a negative test result.
‘They will also be tested afterwards to ensure any transmission of the virus is properly monitored.
‘To build up the evidence base, a number of pilots will include spectators and fans not socially distanced under carefully controlled medical supervision.’
Decisions on the number of spectators allowed into the pilot events will be subject to discussions with event organisers and local authorities. Theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner and businessman David Ross, the co-founder of Carphone Warehouse, will act as advisers to the ERP.
Mr Dowden said last night: ‘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. 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.’
‘We’ll get people back to enjoying what they love’