Government announces restart of live events allowing crowds as lockdown eases

Vaccine passports ‘will be used for large events’ says expert

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The announcement by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden comes after the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield ­yesterday became the first major sporting event to open its doors to spectators since autumn. The FA Cup semi-final will also have fans back in the stands today, with an experiment of no masks or social distancing in the hope the vaccine rollout has reached a point where the spread of coronavirus is limited. Mr Dowden said: “We’re one step closer to a summer of live events now that our science-led programme is under way.

“Testing different settings and looking at different mitigations is key to getting crowds back safely.”

The latest announcements come at the end of a week in which shops have re­opened, and pubs and restaurants have been able to cater for outside customers for the first time since December.

Drinkers flocked to city centres to enjoy the first weekend of outdoor dining and drinking, though there were reports of scuffles over table bookings and police having to intervene.

Globally, the death toll from Covid-19 has now passed three million people. In Britain, the rate of daily deaths continues to fall. Yesterday 35 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the UK total to 127,260. Ministers have insisted on a gradual easing of lockdown in England so the impact it has on case numbers can be fully monitored.

The pilot schemes of spectators at major events are being run to see how quickly normality can return as part of the Government’s science-led events research programme.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The return of spectators to music gigs and sporting events is a moment we are all looking forward to.

“These pilots will inform our approach to ensuring future big events can take place safely. By trialling a range of measures to reduce transmission, we are able to gather vital evidence to inform our plans for events in the future.”

Festival Republic, which runs Download and Latitude, will organise the first outdoor gig, when revellers head to Sefton Park in Liverpool on May 2.

Researchers on site will examine the movements and behaviour of the crowd of 5,000 people at the park, which can host audiences of up to 7,500.

Ticket holders must take a rapid lateral flow test at a local testing centre prior to entry to trial the role these facilities could play in the return of large-scale events. All attendees must have proof of a negative test and will be tested again five days after the event.

Mr Dowden said: “The Sefton Park pilot is an important addition to the programme. I hope it won’t be too much longer until gigs are back for good.”

Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, said: “I’m delighted to be able to support the Government’s efforts to get the live music industry back up and running. This gig is about our absolute commitment to demonstrating that we can and will open on June 21.”

The FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton today will host 4,000 fans. The snooker at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre will operate at the socially distanced capacity of about 325 for the first few days. The intention for both Wembley and the snooker is to steadily reduce social distancing and increase capacities over the course of the research programme.

In Sheffield, after the first few days it will move to 50 percent of its capacity of around 1,000, and then towards 100 percent over the 17-day tournament.

The FA Cup final at Wembley on May 15 will host 21,000 fans.

Other events, such as one taking place at the Circus Nightclub in Liverpool on April 30, will not have social distancing in place but will operate at a reduced capacity.

Evidence that the country’s confidence is growing over the pandemic came in a poll which revealed that a fifth of shoppers are planning to spend more on non-essential goods this weekend. More than three-­quarters of people questioned said they were excited to return to bricks and mortar stores.

Nearly a third were planning to shop in store yesterday and today, with 20 percent saying they aim to increase spending on goods like clothes and jewellery.

The research, carried out for Visa by pollsters Opinium, followed a similar survey last year which showed 54 percent of consumers had cut back on non-essential goods. 

Jeni Mundy, managing director of Visa UK and Ireland, said: “It’s clear that the great British high street still holds its allure for consumers, with many excited to head back into stores.”

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, added: “It has been encouraging. We have certainly seen people returning to high streets, which is very welcome.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said high street shops experienced a “really positive” bounce last week.

Hospitality chiefs also welcomed the bustling scenes in pubs with outdoor spaces across England but added that 60 percent have not been able to reopen.

Tony Sophoclides, from UK Hospitality, said: “It is great that we are taking the first baby steps back into reopening and, of course, most people are very happy to be back in business. We don’t want to dampen the mood but we don’t want a few points to get lost in the optimism.”

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