Just 17 out of nearly 60,000 people caught Covid at non-socially distanced mass events pilots in England, Government data shows.
One of the experts behind the scheme, Liverpool University’s Professor Iain Buchan, said there had been ‘outbreaks of joy’ at the events, but no outbreaks of the virus.
It has raised hopes that festivals, nightclubs and sporting matches can reopen at full capacity after July 19 – more than 16 months after the initial lockdown last March.
Nine events were piloted in total, including the FA Cup final in front of 21,000 fans at Wembley, a live audience of 4,000 at the Brit awards, a nightclub in Liverpool which hosted 3,000, as well as three 10km outdoor runs for 6,000 athletes and spectators.
The trial was designed to see if Covid outbreaks could be avoided at mass events when the country was originally scheduled to unlock on June 21.
There were 28 cases of Covid at the nine events in total, of these which 11 were thought to have caught the virus before the events. Seventeen were believed to have picked it up at an event.
In total there were 58,000 attendees involved in the Events Research Programme (ERP), which was commissioned by the Prime Minister in February.
Despite just 0.02 per cent of attendees getting infected, some researchers involved in the pilot said it was not ‘conclusive’ evidence that all mass events will be safe going forward.
Leicester supporters watched their side win the FA Cup in May in front of a crowd of 21,000 fans as part of nine trial events
There was a live audience of 4,000 at the Brit awards in the same month at the O2 Arena in London
People have non-socially distanced fun at a rave in Liverpool as part of the programme. Data published by local public health officials in Liverpool showed just 0.07 per cent of the more than 13,000 attendees across three events tested positive
More than 200 snooker fans at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre were required to wear masks but did not need to socially distance as part of another test event
The researchers behind the programme said a dozen of the cases thought to have picked the virus up at the events were known to each other.
They said there was a good chance these people caught the disease prior to or following the events and spread it amongst each other.
But Nicholas Hytner and David Ross, chief advisers for the ERP, said the report ‘does not make conclusive public health recommendations on the reopening of events at this stage’.
They highlighted that studies took place during low prevalence of coronavirus, adding that ‘future public health measures need to adapt to the prevailing levels and patterns of the virus’.
The report, which saw input from scientific experts, said that ‘mitigation measures’ – such as face coverings, ventilation, testing, social distancing and restrictions on food and drink – can be used to reduce and manage risks at events.
The report observed that levels of risk vary by venue, with outdoor spaces ‘generally lower risk than indoor spaces’.
It highlighted that higher risk areas include those which have an increased density of people for longer periods of time, for example half-time at a football match, and where ventilation is poorer.
Such higher density puts ‘increased pressure on pinch points’, such as toilets.
The report also warned that ‘large unstructured gatherings indoors’ where people mix in close proximity pose a higher risk.
It observed that compliance with requirements to socially distance and wear face masks were ‘mostly high’, with lower face covering compliance associated with ‘higher attendance levels, circulation zones and exiting’.
Hospitality areas and people congregating in groups also saw people not wearing face coverings.
Overall the report observed that an average of 96.2% of people in sampled areas wore face coverings correctly while seated, particularly indoors (98.3%), while at outdoor events it was 92.1%.
The report also said that ‘nearly all CO2 levels’ recorded at events ‘were within the bounds of reasonable ventilation benchmarks with outdoor spaces clearly better for ventilation than indoors’.
The report noted that the ERP will continue to gather evidence from further events in subsequent phases.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘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 road map.’
Mr Hytner said: ‘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.’
Industry bosses rejoiced at the pilot’s findings, and said there was little evidence to keep live audiences away from events after July 19.
Greg Parmley, chief executive of industry body LIVE, said: ‘We are pleased that the Government has finally published some of the ERP research but it is incredibly disappointing that it took the live music and the theatre industry launching legal action yesterday to force them to do so.
‘We will of course read the report with interest but we are pleased that there were no Covid outbreaks associated with any of the pilots detected, either by testing or by a general increase in community incidence.
‘It is also pleasing to see that the air quality of the indoor events was, in almost all cases, the same or better than being in an office for a short working day.
‘It is completely unfair that our industry finds itself stuck in seemingly-interminable rounds of research before we can open when no such research is being done for other places, such as restaurants, shops or public transport.
‘With sensible mitigations, including simple Covid-certification, there is no reason why we should not be able to reopen on July 19.’