Vaccination-leading UK tests return of supporters in football stadiums

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By Luke Hurst
Thousands of spectators will return to Wembley stadium this month for FA Cup and League Cup fixtures
Thousands of spectators will return to Wembley stadium this month for FA Cup and League Cup fixtures   -  Copyright  Catherine Ivill/AP

Thousands of people will be able to attend live events in Britain over the next two months as the country tests how events can go ahead amid a gradual unlocking of coronavirus restrictions.

People will be able to attend comedy gigs, football matches, and even 10k races, with COVID-19 testing before and after.

The trials will gather evidence on how ventilation and different approaches to social distancing could allow other mass events to go ahead without spreading coronavirus.

Part of the trial will also test out “COVID-status certification”, which have been labelled as vaccine passports.

These have been a controversial topic of debate in recent weeks around the world, and especially in the UK, where a group of MPs from the ruling Conservative party came out publicly against government plans to implement vaccine passports.

The country’s sports minister Nigel Huddleston stressed to reporters that “the earliest pilots almost certainly won't involve any elements of certification” but will involve testing before and after the events.

The World Health Organization has spoken out against the implementation of vaccine passport schemes, a move which followed the European Commission’s proposals for the EU’s digital green pass.

Football matches, comedy, and club nights

The first UK event with spectators, on April 16, will be a comedy show in Liverpool, open to 300 ticket-holders.

This is followed by the first spectator event with thousands, at the FA Cup semi-final clash between Leicester City and Southampton, when 4,000 people will attend Wembley Stadium.

Three 10k runs are included in the trial, at Hatfield Park in Hertfordshire, which will allow 3,000 people to run, and 3,000 more to spectate at each one.

A club night will be held on April 30 at Circus Nightclub in Liverpool for around 3,000 people.

The final test event announced by the government is the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 15, when 21,000 will attend.

Other countries are allowing similar events to go ahead as they test to see whether they are sources of COVID outbreaks.

Last month in Barcelona the rock group Love of Lesbian played to a crowd of 5,000 people, all of whom had taken same-day COVID tests.

If attendees end up testing positive for coronavirus, a team of scientists tracking the event will be informed, and they can then see if there are any discrepancies in the numbers.

In the UK officials say nearly half of the country’s population has now had a first vaccine shot, and more than 5 million have received their second shot.

Boris Johnson’s government is also expected to set out its approach to easing restrictions on international travel later today.

Lockdown rules were lifted slightly on March 29, and from April 12 changes expected include shops reopening, restaurants and pubs being able to serve food and alcohol outdoors, and gym and spas to reopen.