Events Research Programme: 14 positive Covid-19 cases among 40,000 attendees of sporting events

The pilot events were held to test how safe a return to large events may be.
The report said "extreme caution" must still be used with regard to large events.The report said "extreme caution" must still be used with regard to large events.
The report said "extreme caution" must still be used with regard to large events.

The first phase of the government’s pilot sporting programme to get spectators back into venues in large numbers has seen just 14 positive Covid-19 cases among more than 40,000 people who attended pilot sporting events.

However, a report on the first phase of the Events Research Programme (ERP), which covered nine sporting and cultural events taking place in April and May, said the figures on cases related to the events should be treated with “extreme caution”.

It cited the necessarily limited scale of the events, the low prevalence of coronavirus at the time and, most crucially, the low rate of return for PCR tests before and after the events. Just 15 per cent of attendees returned both tests.

A total of 28 positive cases were linked to the nine events which ran with 58,000 in attendance. The report said it was “hard to know” if the positive post-event tests were the result of transmission at the event, and that the poor PCR return rate “significantly limits” the evidence of direct transmission at events.

The report said 11 of these individuals were “potentially infectious at an event”, with a further 17 potentially infected at or around the time of the event.

Viral genetic analysis is being completed to see if those cases are linked to the events or not, the report said.

Eight positive Covid-19 cases were recorded among the 30,000 people who attended the FA Cup semi-final, FA Cup final and Carabao Cup final.

A further six were recorded among more than 10,000 spectators who attended the 17 days of the World Snooker Championship. The report said the return rate of PCR tests for the early stages of the event at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield were “extremely low”, blaming the fact that participants had to order them online.

The report also highlighted that even with entry being conditional on proof of a negative lateral flow test within 36 hours of the event, some potentially infectious people will still be admitted.

This, the report says, indicates “a need for robust outbreak control procedures to be in place”.

The report found that, with the exception of the event at the Circus nightclub in Liverpool, a person attending an ERP event experienced a lower level of cumulative exposure to the virus than attending a well-ventilated multi-person office for six hours.

Evidence gathered from the three football matches found that bacterial cell counts on surfaces and in the air increased as crowd sizes increased.

The report highlights that large indoor events with high crowd density and proximity “may pose a higher potential risk of transmission as a result of close proximity and poor ventilation”.

Additional reporting by PA.