Could rapid Covid testing help entertainment venues reopen?

Tom Pilgrim, PA

The Prime Minister has said rapid Covid-19 testing could help entertainment venues, such as theatres and nightclubs, start to welcome back customers once lockdown restrictions are eased.

But how do rapid tests work and what do businesses currently closed due to lockdown think about using them?

Here the PA news agency answers some key questions:

– What did Boris Johnson say about rapid testing?

Coronavirus – Mon Feb 15, 2021
Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Prime Minister said the Government saw a potential route out of the pandemic as one of “mass vaccination… plus lateral flow testing”.

He said rapid tests would help “the toughest nuts to crack”, such as nightclubs and some theatres which were unable to open last year.

“I think that will be the route that we go down and that businesses will go down,” Mr Johnson said, adding: “You are already seeing lots of business using the potential of rapid, on-the-day testing as well. I think that, in combination with vaccination, will probably be the route forward.”

– What different types of coronavirus tests exist?

There are a range of tests for coronavirus, including the widely used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) nasal and throat swab tests which take between 12 and 24 hours to return results.

Other types include loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) testing, which can return results in as little as two to three hours.

Portable lateral flow swab tests can generate results in less than half an hour and do not require a laboratory.

They can be self-administered or done by someone else and can detect coronavirus in people who do not show symptoms.

Coronavirus – Wed Dec 2, 2020
A student has an asymptomatic test at Edinburgh University (Andrew Milligan/PA)

– How are lateral flow tests currently used?

Lateral flow tests have already been deployed to councils across England to support community testing efforts for people without symptoms.

Earlier this month, the Government said 2.2 million tests had been carried out under the scheme to detect 44,000 positive cases.

The Government is making millions of rapid test kits available to the NHS, care home staff, primary care such as GPs, schools, colleges and universities.

Frontline workers, such as police, firefighters, Border Force staff and civil servants working on the Covid-19 response, also already have access to regular quickfire tests.

Businesses of more than 50 people in England, with employees who cannot work from home, can also order rapid tests through the Government.

– Are businesses planning to use testing to support reopening?

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which represents bars, clubs, restaurants, pubs and live music operators, said the sector’s businesses had been among the hardest hit during the pandemic, adding that testing pilot schemes could help some reopen safely.

He said the industry was looking at “the least intrusive method of facilitating a safe environment for businesses to return, and where consumers are able to re-engage with confidence, the rapid testing solution coupled with an app, generating a QR code to validate ticket purchase is one of the methods being presented”.

Mr Kill said sanitation and enhanced ventilation systems could help with safe admissions, but highlighted there could be challenges over the affordability of any measures for business already hit by the pandemic.

Greg Parmley, chief executive of LIVE, a trade body for the UK live music industry, said the sector had presented detailed plans on how mass testing plans could be a “very effective way” to reopen businesses alongside mass vaccination.

Officials at Chester racecourse believe a “sector-leading mass lateral flow testing programme” and social distancing measures could allow up to 5,000 racegoers to attend the Boodles May Festival.

– Are there any concerns about using testing as a condition of entry?

Coronavirus
An empty cinema during the pandemic (Yui Mok/PA)

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association, has highlighted practical concerns about the £3-£4 cost and time restrictions of using coronavirus testing for customers.

“Asking an audience of 250 each to take the test and wait 30 minutes before seeing a two-hour film seems impractical, as is asking customers to pay what equates in many instances to a 50% uplift on their cinema ticket,” he said.

He argued that previous industry safeguards had worked effectively in preventing Covid cases being traced to UK cinemas.

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