Thousands of people at a mass nightclub rave in the U.K. this week will be a key test of whether live events halted during the pandemic can reopen at full capacity as planned from the end of June.
The two-day event in Liverpool, northwest England, is part of a national research program which so far appears to show people are happy to be tested for coronavirus to secure entry to large-scale events.
There are also no early signs that live events are spreading the disease, according to government scientist Paul Monks, and the program is expected to move to its second phase next month — with live events held at a “full range” of indoor and outdoor venues with “different scales” of capacity.
The sector is one of the hardest hit by coronavirus restrictions, and ministers have said the gradual lifting of measures must be irreversible to prevent another costly lockdown. The U.K. has already suffered its deepest recession in 300 years, and the government says it has earmarked more than 400 billion pounds ($556 billion) to spur the recovery.
Six thousand people are expected over two days at the event hosted by promoter Circus over Friday and Saturday, with no masks or social distancing required — the first U.K. club night in over a year.
The “whole point” of the trial is for people to behave like “pre-Covid times,” event founder Yousef Zaher, best known as DJ Yousef, said in an interview. “A life with or beyond the restrictions of Covid is something that’s really, really exciting in terms of the music industry.”
The appetite from clubbers for events after June 21 is “absolutely enormous,” with large numbers of tickets sold across the country, he said. “The DJs, the artists, the people who work behind the scenes — everybody just wants to get back to work and become self-sufficient again.”
Monks, chief scientific adviser at the U.K. Business Department, said scientists would be trying to understand “where people are in nightclubs, how much time they spend dancing in contact or in small groups.” While many people think of clubs as “hot and sweaty,” this often isn’t the case, he said. “The idea that clubs are poorly ventilated, is that true, is there any evidence of that?”
The event in Liverpool is part of a broader program of trials to explore how the use of Covid testing, ventilation, social distancing, and face coverings can help reopen large venues safely. Sports events including soccer matches have been the focus so far.
Phase two of the tests runs alongside the reopening of indoor hospitality, cinemas and some attendance-limited events in the next stage of lockdown easing from May 17.
Monks said the risk of contracting the virus at mass events is “relatively low” because U.K. case rates have fallen dramatically in recent months. But while there’s no evidence the trial events so far are spreading Covid-19 “as far as we can tell,” he urged caution because the incubation period of the virus could mean some cases have not yet been picked up.
The purpose of the research program is not to test virus transmission but to understand “how to create a safety net” to reduce the risk of spread, he said. That could mean authorities do not need to close venues down if there is a resurgence of the virus.
All the trial events require people to take a so-called rapid lateral flow test 36 hours before the event, and a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test at home up to five days later. Part of the research is to examine whether people are happy to take these tests to gain access; so far, the evidence seems to be that they are.
Five thousand tickets for a live music festival in Liverpool’s Sefton Park on May 2 sold out in a day, Monks said, with young people leaping at the chance to get back to normal.
U.K. officials are also looking at similar trial programs in Spain and the Netherlands. “We learned from the Dutch that 80% of people return the PCR tests after nightclub events, which we found quite surprising — the willingness of people to do this,” Monks said.