Our response to the Events Research Programme Phase 1
After our campaigning for the release of the data, we are delighted that the government released the Phase 1 report on 25th June. Whilst we encourage reading the entire report, and our response to the Secretary of State, below are the findings most relevant to Out To Perform's campaign.
We welcome the release of the ERP Phase 1 Findings, and congratulate all who played a role in the initiation and execution of this landmark study of risks associated with Covid 19 transmission, public health characteristics and risk-mitigation measures at Events. We applaud both its scope and understanding of the sector’s unique needs to recover from the pandemic. We also welcome its narrative that the study is an iterative process.
With Out To Perform’s mission being to unlock the potential for more outdoor performance opportunities during the pandemic, we are delighted to see data both quantifying the relative risks of outdoor vs indoor performance, and reporting little evidence of Covid risk outdoors.
• Data reveals that only a handful of cases of Covid were reported in all of the pilot studies, though as reporting methods weren't the focus of phase 1, there is ambiguity over the specific figures. In general though, it paints a picture that – under the various test scenarios – there was no evidence that events caused anything other than very low rates of infection.
• We are particularly pleased to see the average CO2 data and the resulting estimated exposure to exhaled breath at events, which in an outdoor setting:
- is only 1/38th that of an indoor theatre
- barely increases as attendance rises to near 1 people/m2
- is only 1/100th of the exposure in comparison with a day in a “well-ventilated office”; and that even the indoor theatre exposure was only 1/3 of the office benchmark
Conclusion: Whilst CO2 is only a proxy for Covid exposure, and that pinch points of entrance/exit/ lavatory/refreshments also need to be considered, this data supports both a very different risk profile and provides strong argument for outdoor performances having substantially lighter (if any) regulation in comparison with indoor ones.
But whilst the ongoing research is impressive, we have 3 concerns which may hamper balanced policy making if not addressed, and which may have a substantial impact upon the sector’s recovery.
1. We believe an important assumption may have been missed. The report highlights one mitigation as having a positive impact upon audience attendance: mandatory testing. We are concerned this may be creating an impression of economic benefit if introduced. However, the only data cited is the 14th May ONS Opinions & Lifestyles survey data, which was representative of the wider public, not the much smaller segment who form core audiences. The report doesn’t flag this up, which we feel therefore makes the attitudes data unsafe. Other studies tell different stories, e.g. research by Indigo.
Separate reference is made to “public attitudes at pilot events” showing the public is accepting of testing for attendance purposes, yet no data is cited in support. Even without seeing this data, we caution its usefulness in building an economic case for mandatory testing, as attendees will have self-selected based upon acceptance of testing.
In this rapidly moving space, we also feel that the 14th May data itself is already out of date, having been collected in Step 2 when the sector was in deep freeze, and people were severely restricted in their ability to meet other people. Indigo’s longitudinal research suggests substantial attitude shifts during this period.
We thus urge government to:
• match the pilots studies’ high research standards with an equal standard of attitude research as a matter of urgency before considering any economic case for introducing mandatory testing. Given the very different audiences for mosh-put music festivals, football and opera, we think it is vital to have robust data on core audiences for each segment.
2. We feel that the longer-term impact of introducing mitigations needs consideration before they are introduced. Were, for example, Covid Certification to be introduced, we are concerned that this signals events to be inherently “unsafe” due to the need for mitigations: an attitude which may take many years to undo.
We thus urge the government to:
• consider the long-term economic impact that the introduction of apparently short-term measures might have.
3. We would like the sector to be reassured that the definition of “health” includes mental and social in addition to physical health. The report states “…policies should be guided first and foremost by protecting the health of the public”, yet does not make mention of the mental & social well-being aspects of health, regarded as of equal importance by the WHO.
Given that there are risks to the social fabric and mental health from any mitigations, we urge the government to:
• include the impact of any residual mitigations on the mental and social well-being of audiences before Step 4
Stuart Barr, Out To Perform's CEO, said "We are delighted the ERP Phase 1 report reinforces our instinct that the outdoor sector represents an ultra-low Covid transmission risk, and amplifies our case the lifting of all restrictions for the outdoor performance sector without mitigations. We are concerned though that a false assumption made with the attitudes survey data may lay a false economic case for the introduction of mandatory testing, and urge the government to reassure the sector urgently."