As the UK looks towards further relaxation of social distancing restriction in three weeks, a leading scientist has warned the results of the Events Research Programme could not be seen as a green light to the return to mass events.
The Government’s Events Research Programme undertook a range of test events at indoor and outdoor areas in recent months including allowing a limited number of fans to attend the FA Cup Final in May.
Their report found that the testing prior to the events has help to show a limited spread of COVID amongst the crowds at the event. However with plans to allow 45,000 to attend the Euro 2020 quarter final at Wembley stadium on Saturday with 60,000 set to attend the semi-final and final of the competition Prof Lawrence Young, Virologist and Professor of Molecular Oncology, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, has warned the ERP report was flawed and had been impacted by a range of issues.
“None of this comes as a surprise. It has been evident for some time that crowded areas where people are in close proximity increase the risk of transmission,” he explained. “While low levels of infection associated with the Events Research Programme (ERP) are reported, the results are compromised by the low uptake of gold standard PCR testing both before and after the events.
“Coupled with the inaccuracy of lateral flow tests, these results provide little confidence that the larger events associated with the third phase of the ERP will provide any meaningful data.”
Young warned the rise in the Delta virus needed to be factored in to any decisions to be taken to ease the restrictions on large gatherings.
“The ERP report highlights that ‘pinch points’ at outdoor events such as areas where attendees congregate as they enter or exit, toilets and refreshment zones carry greater risk of transmission,” he explained. “The ERP report also raises concerns about compliance in relation to the wearing of face coverings and social distancing particularly at large events when attendees were moving around or leaving the venue.
“The more transmissible delta variant is driving significant increases in rates of infection across the UK particularly in younger age groups who are not vaccinated. The mixing of these younger folk at mass events remains a significant concern. While full vaccination can protect against severe disease, it is less protective against transmission so in some cases it is still possible to catch and transmit the virus even when vaccinated. We still need to be cautious and stick with ‘hands, face, space, fresh air!”