UK live music Covid research events results compromised by lack of testing

The UK Government has revealed the results of its Covid pilot events – after being sued by the music industry for withholding information – but a lack of post-event testing might make the results redundant.

Results of the UK government’s Events Research Programme, aimed at helping live entertainment to restart, have revealed there were “no substantial outbreaks” as a result of the test events in April and May.

The events, which included the BRIT Awards and festivals and club nights in Liverpool, hosted 58,000 people in total. Only 28 positive cases were confirmed – 11 were potentially infectious at the events and 17 potentially before or after. There might well, however, be reason to take the data with quite a big pinch of salt. That’s because only 15% of people completed PCR tests before and after the events, with 28% taking a post-event test.

Whilst every ticket holder had to take a rapid lateral flow test to gain entry, PCR tests are widely considered to be more accurate. You’d be forgiven for thinking: “Well, what was the point in that, then?”

The other evidence gathered confirmed acknowledged hypotheses; open-air events offer a safer alternative to indoor, and pinch points like toilet facilities and public transport pose a risk. There was, encouragingly, no increase in infection in the wider community.

Before the results were published, there had been an outcry over the government’s hesitancy to reveal the data. Theatre companies and the live music industry body LIVE launched legal proceedings against the UK government. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had been among the most vocal calling for the government to be sued for withholding potentially vital data for the reopening of the live entertainment sector, after initial press reports appeared to prove that live events were safe.

The now-released Events Research Programme report only covers the first nine events, and doesn’t yet take into account the recent Download Festival pilot. Given the fact that artists waived their fees to perform at Download, eager to help to reopen the sector, hopefully the next batch of results will be revealed in time to help other events take place this summer.

Latitude Festival meanwhile is taking place as a full-capacity test event next month, having requested to take part in the research to ensure the event could go ahead. Sheffield’s Tramlines festival has been confirmed as another pilot event for 23-25 July. The final stage of the UK government’s roadmap of lifting restrictions is 19 July.

Questions have been asked about how information gathered from the Latitude pilot will help give confidence to the rest of this summer’s festivals, as it comes during the middle of the festival season and after lockdown is due to be lifted.

UK festivals such as Truck and WOMAD have been the latest to announce the cancellation of this year’s events, citing lack of certainty around Covid-related insurance as a major factor.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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