Covid pilot scheme data shows mass participation events can be held ‘safely’

England’s run to the final of Euro 2020 contributed to a spike in coronavirus cases, but data gathered from the recent pilot scheme has shown large-scale sporting events can go ahead safely with full crowds, the Government has said.

Information gathered from NHS Test and Trace from the 37 trial events that made up the Event Research Programme, including the British Grand Prix and Wimbledon, showed case numbers were largely in line with or below community infection rates for the programme’s four-month duration.

A rise in Covid-19 cases did follow England’s European Championship final defeat to Italy on July 11. Data showed 2,295 people in or around Wembley were likely to have been infectious at the time of the match, with a further 3,404 people in and around the ground potentially being infected around the time of the final.

England fans at the Euro 2020 final against Italy
England fans at the Euro 2020 final against Italy (Christian Charisius/PA).

Wembley hosted eight matches at the tournament and figures indicated there were a total of 3,036 likely infectious cases at the time of those games, with a further combined 6,376 people likely getting the disease around the time they took place.

However, England’s Euro 2020 matches were “not considered typical of standard sporting events and should not be used as comparators”, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Public Health England said in a joint statement.

It added: “On the days of England’s latter Euro 2020 matches, data published by PHE shows there were subsequent spikes in cases across the country.”

England’s semi-final against Denmark and the final were described in the statement as “events of national significance” which “took place during a period of higher underlying community prevalence and drew significant number of ticketless individuals to the area surrounding Wembley Stadium, likely contributing to the increased infections data around these events”.

Dr Jenifer Smith, deputy medical director at Public Health England, said: “Euro 2020 was a unique occasion and it is unlikely we would see a similar impact on Covid-19 cases from future events.

“However, the data does show how easily the virus can spread when there is close contact and this should be a warning to us all as we try and return to a cautious normality once again.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the data from the other mass-participation events provided reason for optimism.

Last month’s British Grand Prix hosted the largest crowd in the UK for over 18 months, with more than 350,000 people at Silverstone over three days.

Data showed there were 585 cases recorded by NHS Test and Trace at the time of the British Grand Prix, with 343 likely to have already been infectious and 242 likely to have caught Covid-19 around that time.

At Wimbledon, which welcomed around 300,000 people over two weeks, there were 881 cases recorded, 229 of whom were likely already infectious and 582 likely getting infected around that time.

The DCMS and PHE said the data showed “mass participation events can be conducted safely, with case numbers comparable to, or lower than community prevalence”.

Dowden, who also emphasised the need for caution, said: “We’ve shown that we can reintroduce mass sports and cultural events safely but it is important that people remain cautious when mixing in very crowded settings.

“So that we can keep the football season, theatres and gigs safe with full crowds this winter, I urge sport, music and culture fans to get the vaccine as this is the safest way we can get big events firing on all cylinders once more.”