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The revised Coronavirus Control Plan (March 2021) allowed for a number of pilot events to be held and evaluated as Wales moved into lower alert levels. This follows the limited Phase 1 pilot events programme for up to 100 attendees in early autumn 2020 (three events across motorsport, triathlon and outdoor theatre).
The focus of the Phase 2 pilot event programme was sectoral reopening with the aim of informing processes, procedures and guidance which would support the safer return of events in Wales on a phased but increasing capacity basis. Managing a safe and successful pilot events programme would inform the phased return of larger gatherings back to stadia, theatres and other venues.
The programme has run in parallel with the Event Research Programme (ERP) in England, although not to the same scale or with the same research purposes. However, the common aims were to identify the risks associated with audiences returning to venues in different settings and test possible mitigations, including different approaches to social distancing and test-on-entry protocols. We have engaged with the ERP team to share information and both programmes have reached some common conclusions, for example in relation to pinch points and challenges around testing regimes.
Event Wales worked with the events industry and local partners, including venues, event owners and local authorities, to develop a rolling programme of potential events that would enable the testing of guidance; help identify issues, challenges and opportunities; enable the observation of peripheral risks such as travelling and mixing before and after the event; the opportunity to test the operation of mitigations such as rapid COVID (lateral flow or LF) tests where appropriate etc. Event organisers were invited to come forward with proposals for a pilot event – either from their existing portfolio, or as a new project and a selection was made from a rolling list of potential events.
The events were selected to represent a range of event types, indoors/outdoors, sport / theatre, number of attendees, planned presence of each of the mitigations (eg testing, masks, social distancing etc . Venues/Events across Wales were considered as part of a rolling programme of opportunities but some were ruled out due to operational issues, such as Venue Cymru and Machynlleth Comedy Festival. The final programme of pilot events was as follows and we were very grateful for the support and co-operation of all those involved:
- Eid Prayers: 13 May 2021, Cardiff Castle (outdoor seated, Target attendees 500, actual 150)
- Tafwyl Festival: 15 May 2021, Cardiff Castle (outdoor seated, Target attendees 500, actual 494 )
- Newport County FC play off: 18 May 2021, Rodney Parade, Newport (stadium, seated, 950 attendees)
- Celtic Manor Resort business event: 20 May 2021, Celtic Manor Resort, Newport (indoor, seated, target attendees 100, actual 86 )
- Swansea City FC play-off: 22 May 2021, Liberty Stadium, Swansea (stadium, seated, target attendees 3,500, actual 2,627)
- ‘We love Bees’ family performance at Theatre Brycheiniog: 3 to 4 June 2021, Brecon (outdoor, seated, target attendees 250, actual 100)
- Glamorgan v Lancashire cricket match: 3 to 6 June 2021, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff (stadium, seated, target attendees 1000, actual 241)
- Wales v Albania football game: 5 June 2021, Cardiff City Stadium (stadium, seated, target attendees 6,500 actual 3,607)
- Wales Triathlon: 12 June 2021, Fishguard, Pembs (outdoor, freestanding, target 500, actual competitors 381)
Individual event reports from the organisers and observers have informed this summary of findings. In addition, behavioural observations were made at several pilot events with observers monitoring customer behaviour and compliance with the COVID-19 mitigations in place (e.g. social distancing, face mask use, hand hygiene), in order to assess how these were affected by:
- Event management plan (e.g. attendee management plan, cohorting of attendees)
- Environmental design (e.g. specific COVID-safe interventions: markings on floor, barriers, one-way systems)
- Context within venue (e.g. entry and exit points, concessions, toilets, physical ‘pinch-points’)
- Staff & people influences (e.g. steward/staff behaviour, training, social norms)
- Time (e.g. habituation/ familiarisation, fatigue, release from inhibition)
Whilst the purpose of the pilot events was not for research, public health and health protection partners have made the point that on-going behavioural observations at events can help to identify specific risk situations where extra effort is required – people’s behaviour whilst queueing, for example. In addition, other factors such as indoor air quality data can provide wider insight and a more accurate view of risk, particularly when we are considering the different risks between indoor and outdoor events and highlights the importance of good ventilation. Therefore behavioural observation (Tafwyl and Celtic Manor) and some CO2 monitoring at the one indoor event (Celtic Manor) has been undertaken as part of the pilot programme.
To support the delivery of the pilot events there was a significant level of participant/attendee engagement ahead of events, high levels of pro-active stewarding and high levels of local authority/Safety Advisory Group/Local Health Board/Welsh Government engagement, including the establishment of a Welsh Government project board to help advise on the planning and delivery of each event. The project board included colleagues from Public Health and Public Health Wales.
Across the nine events there was a total of 8,636 attendees. Almost all of the events did not reach their intended capacity. This can be attributed to a number of logistical and behavioural factors including the short notice given for the events, the testing procedures being new to people and perceived as too onerous, adverse weather, and a general nervousness about returning to an event environment. Consumer confidence will be a key issue going forward.
Due to the huge efforts of the event organisers and other stakeholders all the events appear to have been held as safely as possible and in compliance with the guidance and/or mitigations agreed by the SAG. It is difficult to say with any certainty but there is no evidence to suggest there was any spike in infection rates following the events.
Each event saw good compliance with the mitigations that were put in place at each event, from pre event testing, maintaining the required social distancing, remaining in groups of 6, wearing of face masks etc. The pre-event testing, for example, picked up a positive result from a food vendor prior to the event and therefore prevented potential transmission during the event. The latter behaviours are heavily reliant on the circumstances, and compliance, such as lack of mask wearing, waned over the duration of some events.
It is difficult to say with certainty but there is no evidence to suggest there has been any outbreak from the events held. These events took place against a background of relatively low rates of COVID-19 in the community. All attendees were reminded of the need to check for symptoms and not to attend if that was the case. Any findings on transmission risks should therefore be interpreted with caution. While pre-event testing served as a screening process to keep infected individuals from attending events, only five of the nine events had pre-event testing.
For the initial smaller events (Eid Prayers, Tafwyl, Newport County FC play-off and the Celtic Manor business event), in the 14 days following, test and trace services identified no confirmed cases who reported attending a test event. For the Swansea City FC play-off, record linkage of attendees with routine surveillance data on confirmed cases identified only one case in the 14 days after the event, and it is not possible to know whether this case acquired the infection at the event.
To ensure success there has been a significant level of participant/attendee engagement ahead of events, high levels of pro-active stewarding (although there are concerns re availability and costs of stewards post COVID) and high levels of LA/SAG/LHB/WG engagement. This was necessary in order to make best efforts in support of success. It is difficult to see how these levels of engagement are sustainable going forward as capacities grow to commercially viable levels and there remains a concern that customers will revert to previous behaviours as attendance becomes more regular, familiar and comfortable. This does point toward the need for consideration of a blend of activities by event organisers that follow the hierarchy of control (see Figure 5 of Annex A). For example, testing regime; honing of environmental restructuring measures such as barriers, one way systems; encouraged/enabled compliance; commensurate with the prevailing Alert Level.
As we move forward, taking account of vaccine roll out (and variants of concern (VOC)), potential utilisation of vaccine certification and home LFT test, the onus will continue to be on the event organiser to ensure a COVID risk-managed event taking account of guidance etc with local authority intervention as required e.g. based on local intelligence. Early engagement with the local authority will be a key factor in the delivery particularly as different areas will necessarily have to take into account different risk factors such as prevailing rates.
We also recognise that due to the current low prevalence when the pilot events took place, the emerging findings cannot be automatically generalised to other event types, higher levels of COVID-19 incidence or the presence of other variants.
One of the key aspects of the Phase 2 pilot programme was the potential to use testing to facilitate the re-opening of events with sector representatives believing that pre-event and/or on site testing would allow events to proceed even when transmission rates were higher. There was not a blanket approach to applying testing; following the detailed risk assessments for each event, and detailed discussions with the SAG/LHB, testing was required at a number of events as part of the mitigations to reduce transmission:
- Eid prayers
- Glamorgan v Lancashire
- Wales v Albania
At all four events above the testing was - PCR test up to 5 days prior to the event. Home LFD test up to 24 hours prior to the event.
The fifth event where testing took place was at the Celtic Manor Resort Business event. Here the requirement was a PCR test up to 5 days prior to the event and LFD test on site upon arrival at the venue.
There were a small number of examples where the pre-event testing prevented transmission when attendees and one contractor tested positive before the event and withdrew. In addition, one attendee had received a negative LFD test and travelled to the event but received the results of their PCR test at the event and immediately returned home. The attendee had previously tested positive some months before and follow up testing suggested it was a residual infection but was no longer infectious. We are not aware of other notable test results.
Event organisers and attendees were asked to complete a post-event survey where testing had taken place. Feedback from these surveys demonstrated:
- attendees were largely content with the test booking process or registering and undertaking a home test. As a result of the events improvements have been made to the booking process.
- attendees were positive about testing as a means of helping them to feel safe at the event.
- attendees are willing to undertake testing to attend future events.
The positive results feedback, however was from those who had elected to take tests in order to attend the event. Event organisers reported that there was a drop in interest in the event once the testing requirements were fully understood, this may have impacted on the ability of events to reach capacity levels e.g. Glamorgan v Lancashire target 1,000 actual 241, but testing regimes may not have been the only factor; consumer confidence to attend events is understood to be another and those events where testing wasn’t required also struggled to reach capacity.
Whilst there were very low numbers of positive cases due to prevalence at the time, transmission through the events was avoided when a contractor were identified through the testing process. An attendee at another event also tested positive prior to the event.
For larger stadium events, there were considerable operational challenges to the testing process due to distribution and ensuring laboratory capacity to process tests in time. PCR testing at home meant that the test had to be taken 3-5 days before the event to allow time for the result to be returned. This gave laboratories a short window in which to process a much larger number of tests. LFD tests could not be undertaken more than 24 hours before the event and when linked to electronic ticketing, meant that any IT issues in that time frame impacted on the numbers able to download their e-tickets.
Communications with attendees was critical to ensure they understood the testing requirements and to support them through the process.
Whilst attendees reported a largely positive experience of testing for the phase one events, there are a number of issues to consider for future events:
- Testing process too onerous
Feedback from all events demonstrated that once potential attendees understood the testing requirements, there was a considerable drop in interest. For Tafwyl this did not pose an issue as there was a waiting list in place but for all other events, the final numbers were far lower than expected. This could be due to a number of reasons such as reluctance to attend larger events, and for the Eid festival, the adverse weather was a factor on the day, but event organisers reported that the testing arrangements were an influencing factor.
- Digital exclusion
The testing process and the pilot event ticketing systems were fully digital and reliant on individuals using smartphones which would lead to digital exclusion for certain demographics at future events. Feedback from Eid at the Castle and the Glamorgan cricket game was that attendees had relied on support from family to undertake the testing and ticketing process. An iPhone update on the day of the Wales game had a significant impact on the digital ticketing system and led to congestion at entry points whilst stewards dealt with the issue.
- Operational issues
The pilot events were identified and arranged to test certain elements of reopening the events sector such as larger crowds and how the testing process would support the safe return of attendees. There were a number of operational challenges flagged though the process:
There was a significant cost associated with testing at the pilot events with PCR and LF tests undertaken at five events.
Due to timescales we were unable to use the DHSC home test kit distribution channels and were reliant on Cardiff City Stadium to distribute the home test PCR and LF kits for the two larger events in Cardiff. The distribution costs were significant, resource intensive and impractical for future events.
PCR testing for larger events would present challenges with laboratory capacity. At the time, symptomatic testing numbers were low but large events would place unnecessary pressure on the laboratory infrastructure if testing numbers increased.
Without an asymptomatic testing infrastructure all LFD tests were undertaken at home. This may have led to tests being administered incorrectly with an increased number of void tests and false results being registered.
Checking every person’s test results to allow entry into an event can result in significant bottle necks and bunching at ingress. This poses both a public health risk and a public safety, terrorism, risk. Random sampling may be one option at entry to reduce delays but further work will be required to consider this option in terms of logistics and ethics.
Observation of attendees
The pilot event programme deliberately sought to engage with different type of event attendees in terms of age, demographic etc. Observational research was specifically undertaken through PHW at two events – Tafwyl and Celtic Manor. Pairs of observers monitored key COVID personal protective behaviours (social distancing, face mask use, hand hygiene), in order to assess how these were affected by different factors during the course of the event. Behavioural data suggests that compliance of attendees across events has generally been good. Notwithstanding individuals’ intentions, the number of people adhering to personal protective behaviours is clearly affected by the environment, situational factors, and passage of time at an event. These influences appeared to be systematic and thus if fully understood can help improve COVID safety at future events.
Notable across several events was the lack of social distancing by very large numbers at the points of access, which was exacerbated where test results were checked on entry, and (even more markedly) egress. There were also minor gatherings before and after the event, compounded by lack of face covering protection in a notable minority at point of leaving one evening event. Specific settings within events also led to increased density such as queueing for toilets or food and drink, and mass movement between activities/rooms. Bunching also occurred outside of some events. This has highlighted the importance of considering the whole ‘envelope’ of the event from pre-arrival right through to post event dispersal, but also raises the question of event remit extending beyond the boundaries e.g. groups gathering to listen to an event outside of the venue.
Cohorting/batching attendees (e.g. designated tables, or in attendance groups) appeared to help manage bottlenecks and designated arrival times may also be considered. More generally, environmental and service restructuring including seating plans, floor markings, food and beverage delivery (and remote ordering) and physical barriers/pathways worked well to shape the behaviours of large numbers of attendees. The importance of live communications at events, to remind people of requirements and positively acknowledging adherence was clear and it also acted to ‘reset’ behaviours and improve adherence.
Hand sanitiser was widely available at the events, however it was not used by the vast majority of people (evidenced though observations and volume of sanitiser left at end of the events). Salient signage, station positioning and consideration of the activity being undertaken (i.e. carrying items), needs further consideration.
A relatively under-reported finding was that adherence waned later in the day i.e. over time at events. There are a number of factors that might account for this including: increased alcohol consumption (where available); fatigue in inhibitory control; habituation and reduced anxiety in a novel context. This temporal factor is not well understood and requires further investigation but it emphasises the need for continued communication through the event.
Overall, behavioural adherence broke down under conditions where: stewards weren’t present, there was a lack of environmental signalling (including physical interventions or communications), later in the event, and where the situation was less constrained and individuals were less cognitively vigilant i.e. fewer external cues to promote appropriate behaviour, and reduced cognitive control in individuals.
One interpretation of these data is that individuals at these events are using external stimuli and signals to make decisions and control behaviours, rather than dynamically attempting to evaluate risk and act accordingly. An important tactic then is to focus efforts to provide cues at events such as enhanced signage and visual reminders. Where these were present, adherence was increased.
The post-event survey also showed that most people felt safer knowing everyone at the event had received a negative test result, and subsequently attributed lower importance to other mitigations such as mask wearing. Additionally, some events are inherently less structured and may lead to greater risk. A secondary tactic in these circumstances is to provide frequent communications, perhaps alongside steward presence, to support reflective decision-making and hence adherent behaviour.
Staff, stewards and volunteers acted as role models as well as providing explicit guidance around appropriate behaviour (offering advice, correcting failures of adherence). However, there was behavioural evidence of ‘perceived immunity to risk’ in some staff groups. A sustained/widespread lack of physical distancing, and some removal of masks (to aid communication), was observed in some of these groups. Some systems around management of food and beverages acted to decrease social distancing in staff, as they clustered around service points. Given the high number of contacts some staff have, adherence to personal protective behaviours in this group should be a focus and this is reflected in the events guidance, for example, specifically in relation to the importance of face coverings.
Cascading of messaging to stewards and volunteers is vital and high quality stewarding is essential. There was some evidence that security guards and stewards were better at dealing with any minor issues that arose rather than volunteers.
Going forward it would be beneficial to focus on clear role definition and training around advising in ways that sustain pro-social behaviours, and systems to maintain that input throughout the event. Stewards/Volunteers need to recognise they are part of the event too and follow the rules, on testing, physical distancing and face covering use.
To maintain the level of good stewardship required the number of stewards were as if the event was at full capacity so greater numbers may require additional stewards and there are concerns around availability of stewards and volunteers post COVID. In addition, stewards need to be familiar with the event site in advance of any event to be able to guide attendees appropriately.
Communication/participant engagement pre and during the event is essential in securing compliance with the proposed COVID mitigations identified by the event risk assessment.
Pre-event communications should make clear to those attending what they need to do pre-arrival and how to do it, e.g. pre-event testing, not to arrive if they show any signs of symptoms, what they can expect on arrival, which may be different to what they usually see at the events they attend, and the key things they need to understand to protect themselves and others, whether that is social distancing/face mask requirements or highest risk areas such ingress and egress points.
Comms and supervision at the event to remind people of requirements, and acknowledging adherence, is also key. As indicated above (para 33) levels of compliance can wane during the course of an event, therefore reminders of required behaviours during the event are vital and might include, for example, reminders of the expected event egress protocols.
During the Wales V Albania game there was an example of good practice with the use of a quiz via an app during half time. This was used as a tool to capture informal data but at the same time served as a reminder of required behaviours.
Event organisers should not underestimate the resource intensive nature of such communications and will need to take account of how their audiences consume their information. Older demographics, for example, may not engage with social media.
The organisers of Wales Triathlon, scheduled as part of Pilot 2 in Fishguard faced particular challenges in terms of controlling spectator attendance: The event was usually well-followed in the local area, the location is an established tourism destination and the weather forecast for that day was good. Activity Wales Events combatted this with minimal pre-event publicity to any audiences other than event participants and close liaison with the LA to dissuade large numbers of locals or visitors attending, specifically:
Low key and late comms, via PN/community outreach to inform the public of the event and to discourage crowds
Emails, issue of race packs, video briefings and text messages to athletes to communicate COVID regulations (including discouraging athletes from bringing supporters).
Communication out to athletes to stress no viewing points for the start, transition and finish line areas. Inclusion of details in the race pack of a list of safe locations on the course to help with the dispersion of any crowds.
Comms for locals who live on the course were encouraged to support from their garden and not attend event site.
Local and community businesses along the course were contacted by organisers team in the weeks leading up to the event to help with athlete integration into the surrounding communities after the event. Athletes encouraged to pre-book restaurants, cafes and visitor attractions away from the event site.
Another vital part of communications is on site signage: clearly marked walkways/circulation areas and other visual reminders in terms of social distancing (for example showing what 2m social distancing looks like) and using hand sanitiser.. Highly visible on-site signage is particularly important at “pinch point” areas e.g. toilets.
Risk assessment / authorisation process
The cornerstone of all the pilot events was the full COVID risk assessment each organiser had to undertake to consider COVID related risks, for staff and attendees. The risk assessments included identification and implementation of mitigations including not undertaking some activities on site where appropriate e.g provision of alcohol. The COVID risk assessment could not be developed in isolation; consideration had to be given to the implications for wider risks for example, increased queues to check details of LF tests can increase the risk of terrorist attack.
The full risk assessment, including proposed mitigations, for each event was submitted to the relevant LA/SAG who considered it with LHB input ahead of a letter of assurance being issued to WG by the LA CEO on behalf of the Director of Public Protection for the LA and the local Director of Public Health. The Risk Assessments were circulated to the WG Project Board ahead of formal advice to Ministers as to whether the events should be approved , or not, as required under the Regulations. Following Ministerial approval the LA CEO and event organisers were informed of the decision. All events were approved but it was also made clear that should the position in the local area change, in terms of an outbreak or similar , then the event could be pulled at any time. The public health position and the views of local stakeholders in particular the LHB/LA were paramount at all times.
Timelines were often very tight and the approval process for the pilot events has been resource intensive on both sides, event organisers and authorisers (SAG/LA/WG). It highlighted that there are real concerns with some local authorities regarding the shape of processes going forward and the role of SAGs. In addition different LAs/LHBs have different risk appetites/resources. Clearly the approach adopted for the pilot events is not sustainable: it highlighted the key elements of an approach going forward - a full COVID risk assessment and early engagement with LAs/SAG where necessary. This has been reflected in the discussions with WLGA and individual local authorities and included in the amended guidance that has been published.
Maximum capacities at the pilot events were determined by the Event organisers Risk Assessments and considered by the local SAG in the context of the prevailing public health position. In most instances 2m SD requirements were retained and the focus of the pilot remained on understanding how the events worked in practice, in the context of the draft guidance, pre-event testing logistics and compliance with mitigations.
Where 2m social distancing was applied it has highlighted that this is one of the biggest barriers for the viability of future events. For example, the capacity of Rodney Parade is over 8,500 at normal operating levels. At 2m social distancing it was limited to a maximum of 950 spectators at the event. Whilst numbers at some events were disappointing, compared to target numbers, those involved in the events welcomed the opportunity to start small to better understand the processes and mitigations that would be applied if and when numbers grew.
The two pilot events, Swansea play off and Wales v Albania, where capacities were increased and additional mitigations put in place where 2m social distancing was not maintained, were both delivered safely. The discussions with the organisers of the football events, and attendance at the Carabao Cup final, emphasised that a one size fits all approach does not work across sports or venues. Each event/venue has its own characteristics whether that is entry and exit points, concourse space, numbers and location of toilets etc and therefore individual risk assessments are key and will require regular review when we are able to increase numbers at events.
Test Trace Protect (TTP)
TTP is a vital part of the battle against COVID in terms of managing outbreaks, all pilot events were required to obtain details of all those attending to ensure that any potential outbreaks linked to the events could be followed up by the TTP teams in the LA areas.. Analysis of attendees at the Wales v Albania game is currently being carried out by test and trace services by secondary analysis of NHS number against routine surveillance data on confirmed cases. Similar data from the (non-pilot event) Welsh Rugby Test Matches against Canada and Argentina will also be considered in this manner in line with similar TTP procedures taking place as part of the ERP.
Although the proportionality of the TTP system will need to be kept under review, it remains key to breaking chains of transmission, particularly given the potential of further variants of concern emerging. Our event guidance reflects the fact that event organisers should ensure they have systems in place to collect the details of all those attending their events.
Use of guidance
One of the key parts of the pilot programme was to test the draft “overarching” event Guidance that was in production as the pilot series kicked off. Event organisers were, understandably, keen to access the Guidance and it was provided to them, and to LAs in draft, in time for the commencement of Phase 2. Indications were that the draft Guidance was welcomed as “official” Welsh Government communication on hosting events. The perennial preference for a more concise, less lengthy, document was expressed but the over-arching consensus was, it was clear, used alongside sector specific guidance (where available) by more experienced event organisers who were aware that they would need to comply with more specialist advice. Feedback on how/whether the draft Guidance was used was requested as part of the reporting back process for each pilot event and continues to be part of the Guidance consideration process as restrictions ease and the Guidance goes through each amendment.
As above, the vast majority of the organisers of the pilot events were highly experienced event organisers , entirely familiar with delivering events in their venues and with additional guidance available in a COVID context; for example the Live Performance guidance, Sports Ground Safety Guidance. As we move forward not all organisers, or LAs, will be as familiar with events and the COVID related requirements and that is why developing, testing and reviewing the Creating COVID- aware events guidance was a vital part of the pilot programme.
In relation to the pilot events and because of the public and media interest in the possible return of events, media interest had to be actively managed by event organisers, in conjunction with WG, in order to best ensure balanced media coverage of the programme.
This had to be set alongside the promotional aspirations of some event owners who were keen to signal their place in the pilot programme, keen to showcase their event and, in some cases, eager to disseminate this information as an indication of “good news” about their organisation and the Wales events industry in general. For some event organisers, their usual PR agency was retained for this purpose.
Event Wales communications officials engaged with event organisers early in the comms process and the promotional work around each event strictly monitored. In the main media coverage of the pilot events has been broadly positive, with a keen understanding of why they need to take place, why they need to be accompanied with a considered pre and post event testing protocol, the mitigations in place and why they have been organised as they have.
Financial support and costs
Welsh Government support was required in order for these pilot events to proceed, funding was capped at a maximum of £25k for any event and was paid in arrears in order to limit unnecessary expenditure should the pilot event have to be cancelled/curtailed.
The pilot events have emphasised the additional costs to event organisers in running events at the present time. This includes costs for testing, additional stewarding, signage and other mitigations, as well as the impact on commercial viability from social distancing.
Future pilot events
Consideration is being given to a third Phase of pilot events with a focus on indoor events. If the third phase of events is required, we will include additional elements including exploring the use of CO2 monitoring to support live measurement and associated mitigation of transmission risks, in groups and locations within indoor venues. This will build on the monitoring that was undertaken at the Celtic Manor event.
In addition the safe re-opening of events would be enhanced by real-time enhanced public health surveillance of possible cases and/or clusters associated with each event and we will further explore this. A sub group of the Project Board will be established to consider these proposals
Key conclusions and recommendations
Clearly the ambition is to remove as many restrictions as possible to allow events to return to as near normal as possible, “baseline measures”. However if at some point we do need to return to Alert level 1 then the lessons from the pilot events , which have informed the revised guidance, will support the consideration of the continued operation of events.
The pilots have emphasised the need for a thorough risk assessment for each event that takes into account the specific circumstances and this needs to be undertaken by the event organiser at whatever alert Level we are in. This should be considered in the context of the hierarchy of mitigations (eliminating the risks of exposure where possible through to administrative controls and changes to how the event might normally operate). This should consider outdoor/indoor areas, airflow and the importance of good ventilation, pinch points etc as well as the overall footprint of the event (such as how people will travel there, queueing before entry, leaving etc).
Testing at events
Many in the sector believed that pre event and/or on site PCR or LF testing would be crucial to ensuring events could re-start and/or continue at higher Alert Levels. However based on the pilot events we recommend that, going forward, pre-event PCR testing cannot be required as a condition of entry. Whilst those who attended the pilots were broadly content with the testing requirements the logistics are impractical On site testing requires a significant number of staff (23 for 86 attendees at Celtic Manor); COVID test, especially laboratory-processed tests such as PCR tests are costly and there are further and significant costs associated with posting out tests pre-event (£20,000 for circa 6,000 tests for the Wales and Glamorgan pilots). The costs for the pilots were met by Welsh Government for the pilot event programme but would need to be borne by event organisers or attendees going forward.
More importantly PCR testing to enable events puts increased pressure on laboratory capacity, particularly as transmission rates riseand diverts resources from symptomatic testing. Event organisers would need to factor in the cost/benefit of any testing regimes into their commercial plans which would create inequality in access to events.
There are a number of other factors to consider in relation to PCR and LF tests.
- PCR tests are very reliable but require processing in a laboratory. This means that they are more expensive than LF tests and results may take several days to be returned. In order to ensure results are returned in time, they must be taken 3-5 days before the event, which means that someone may contract COVID between taking the test and attending the event and could provide a false sense of security.
- During periods of high transmission, turn-around times may be longer; extending time frames to enable results to be returned in time would increase the risk of an infection being acquired between testing and attendance at an event.
- Testing for events diverts laboratory capacity from processing symptomatic tests.
- PCR testing is sufficiently sensitive as to register a positive result from a test subject who has a previously acquired infection but is no longer infectious. This can be overcome by not requiring someone who has tested positive in the last 90days but more than 10 days ago. The positive subject at the Glamorgan v Lancashire match, however, had previously been infected more than 90 days previously, so further advice would be required.
- LF tests do not need to be processed in a laboratory and are therefore cheaper.
- LF tests give results in 30 minutes but are less sensitive than PCR tests so may miss infections at the beginning of the infection or as it is waning.
- Unsupervised LF test results must be reported by the user, which allows for the possibility that someone who is highly motivated to attend an event may falsely report a positive result. There is no evidence of wide-spread deliberate mis-reporting, but more work is being undertaken on this through the ERP
- Lateral Flow tests may occasionally provide false positives. Although the relative proportion of false positives is quite small, it is higher at times of low transmission and false negatives are much less likely.
- Unsupervised tests, which would be the majority of asymptomatic tests for events, are more likely to return a void result.
- Checking test results on entry creates pinch-points, which is in itself a risk.
Our recommendation is for organisers to encourage all those attending the event site to undertake a voluntary LF test in order to help protect themselves, others and the safe delivery of the event. Tests can be ordered through the Welsh Government website, or collected from a designated community collection point. The events guidance has been amended to reflect this.
Clear communications, pre- and during events, to all on site including attendees, stewards/volunteers, staff, contractors etc are key and should cover what they can expect at the event in terms of mitigations, expectations re what is expected of them in terms of behaviours, enforcement etc. Communications include environmental restructuring (e.g. floor markings, clients flows, batched entry/exiting), supported maintenance of the behaviours (announcements, active staffing) and priming of clients/guests before arrival (e.g. mental models to follow) are needed. These should be determined by the specific risk factors and form a key part of the risk assessment for the event.
Pinch points and flow
Risks vary between the nature of events – outdoor seated to outdoor free standing to indoor seated to indoor free standing – and individual venues dependent on the space, ventilation etc. However there were a number of common themes across all events i.e. key areas such as entry and exit, toilets, concession stands particularly indoors where pinch points exist, it is difficult to ensure social distancing, and where there is a lack of good ventilation. These pinch points must be a key part of the Risk assessment. The movement of individuals and groups at an event should be modelled and mitigations considered e.g a combination of environmental restructuring and use of a ‘service design’ approach will reduce risk of bottlenecks and bunching. Whilst this might not fully remove bunching, it could reduce the duration of it, and therefore associated risk. This could be augmented with advice from staff to encourage maintenance of physical distance and continued flow. Our guidance also recognises the need, as part of the risk assessment, to consider the whole ‘envelope’ of the site to avoid bunching at pinch points and also any implications outside of the event site for example in relation to an increase in public transport usage by those attending the event.
Staff, stewards, volunteers
Staff, Stewards and volunteers (“staff”) are vital to the success of any event but even more so in a COVID context. It was clear from some of the pilots that some staff appeared failed to take account of personal protective behaviours. They also act as role-models (social norms) and also can support behaviours in situations which are otherwise unconstrained and uncertain. Staff training is therefore very important, as is ensuring that any newly recruited staff/stewards are familiar with the site before an event.
In relation to many of the recommendations above including comms, pinch points, staff awareness, the use of environmental triggers such as signage as part of mitigations is strongly recommended. It is highly likely that that people attending events, particularly at familiar settings such as their favourite sports ground or festival site, will fall back on existing (pre-COVID) habits unless there are reminders. This may also happen the longer people are on site and the more comfortable they become on site particularly if alcohol is involved. Therefore it is vital that in unstructured areas, particularly pinch points, clear comms and signage is used to aid attendees in considering their personal risk evaluations and behavioural decisions.