In what could be a landmark breakthrough for a beleaguered industry, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans to pilot mass testing of audiences prior to events.
The pilot test will be conducted in Salford and see audiences tested within 20-90 minutes which would deny entry to those testing positive and could potentially allow theatre audiences to return to shows without the need for social distancing.
Johnson has unveiled plans to conduct the programme at both outdoor and indoor venues next month, and if successful could pave the way to end social distancing measures. Mr Johnson stated;
Theatres, and sports venues could test audience members one day and let in all those with a negative result, all those who are not infectious.
Work is underway now and we will get on at pace until we get there, round the clock. We’re hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring and if everything comes together, it may be possible even or some of the most difficult sectors like theatres to have life closer to normal before Christmas.
The British Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference that anyone with a negative test result would be issued a ‘COVID-safe passport’ and effectively be allowed to enter the venue and mingle.
He went on to say;
We believe that new types of test which are simple, quick and scalable will become available. They use swabs or saliva and can turn round results in 90 or even 20 minutes.
Workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning and allow them to behave in a way that was normal before COVID. Now that is an ambitious agenda, but we are going to pilot this approach in Salford from next month, with audiences in indoor and outdoor venues. And then we hope to go nationwide.
There are a number of challenges. We need the technology to work. We need to source the necessary materials to manufacture so many tests. We need to put in place an efficient distribution network. And we need to work through the numerous logistical challenges.
The announcement is seen as extremely positive news in the wake of further restrictions on social gatherings, to combat a steep rise in the number of coronavirus cases.
Johnson went on to highlight that pilots for larger scale audiences may need to be scaled back and whether or not this was referring to theatre audiences was not confirmed. He stated;
At the present time we must also, I’m afraid, revise plans to pilot larger audiences in venues later this month and review our intention to return audiences to stadiums and conference centres from October 1. That doesn’t mean we’re going to scrap the programme entirely, it just means we are going to review and abridge it.
In the wake of the announcement, the BBC is reporting that scientists and leading health officials have raised doubts about the the Prime Ministers plans saying that the technology for rapid tests ‘does not yet exist’ and that there would be issues with laboratory capacity for such rapid widespread testing.