How could Leeds Festival and other big gigs be different in 2021? Rapid testing and vaccine passports explained

Festivals across Leeds have announced that they will go ahead in 2021 - but how could big gigs be different in the post-Covid world?
Leeds Festival in previous years - and organisers say the event is planned to go ahead in 2021Leeds Festival in previous years - and organisers say the event is planned to go ahead in 2021
Leeds Festival in previous years - and organisers say the event is planned to go ahead in 2021

But how could Leeds Festival and other big events look different in 2021, with the threat of Covid still very real?

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A report from UK Music outlined some of the recommendations for music festivals in 2021.

Leeds Festival in previous years. Is rapid testing the answer?Leeds Festival in previous years. Is rapid testing the answer?
Leeds Festival in previous years. Is rapid testing the answer?

Testing

Engaging with rapid testing to eventually bring back full capacity crowds, the report says.

This requires proof of concept, conducting testing pilots with social distancing, then gradually building up to full capacity.

In December 2020, Primavera in Barcelona conducted a pilot festival. In it, 1,000 people were invited to attend with no masks or social distancing.

Leeds Festival in previous years. Is rapid testing the answer?Leeds Festival in previous years. Is rapid testing the answer?
Leeds Festival in previous years. Is rapid testing the answer?
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Before being allowed to enter, every person had to undertake a rapid test with a 15-minute result. Only those testing negative were allowed entry.

The organisers said that there were no new cases as a result of the pilot festival.

Organiser of Newsam Park and Mint Festivals in Leeds, Stuart Forsyth, told Mixmag that rapid testing could be used at its sites.

“If they are needed, we have rapid tests in place for both Newsam Park and Mint Festival, however things have changed a lot since we announced this in December, we have to wait and see, things are changing every week, its out of our hands,” he said.

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A festival or venue could in the long-term allow restrictions to be relaxed inside venues and festivals, as well as support the Government’s overarching Covid-19 strategy by forcing asymptomatic carriers to take a test, alerting them to the fact they have tested positive and allowing them to self-isolate.

Swallow Events claims to be the first company to offer a full rapid testing screening service facility to detect COVID-19 to event organisers throughout the UK and the rest of the world, and the firm is planning on running a festival in Albania using its system.

Ventilation and pathogen reduction systems

There are several ventilation systems on the market that reduce the risk of transmission by improving airflows.

However, the report found that unless they are recognised or validated by the Government then there is no incentive for industry to invest in them.

Introduction of a Government-backed reinsurance scheme

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The live music sector has drafted a proposal for a reinsurance scheme which would cover events from any re-opening dates in 2021 to December 2022.

The promoter or venue would pay into a Covid-19 fund, to be matched by the Government, in addition to an additional premium paid by the insurance industry.

This Covid-19 fund would sit separate to the usual cancellation claims and would pay out in the event of a Covid-19 enforced cancellation.

Vaccine passports

The concept of vaccine passports for travel has been mooted several times, although the government has said it is investigating the need to balance privacy and data tracking concerns with the need to restart the economy and track jabs.

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Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said people may need vaccine passports to travel, so it isn't a stretch to imagine these could apply to festival entry.

He told the Science and Technology Committee: “The perception that this is an illness that just affects older people is not actually true.

“There are many, many people throughout society who have been incredibly affected by this virus.”

He added: “And then of course there is the other issue that young people like travelling and it’s almost inevitable that countries outside the UK – independent on what the UK decides about vaccine passports… so these young people will need to have some vaccination certificates to actually be able to travel to some parts of the world that they want to go to.”

Will festivals really go ahead?

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Greg Parmley, chief executive of Live, a trade body for the live music industry, welcomed the news but said the festival season was still in danger.

He said: “Today’s confirmation that Reading and Leeds music festivals will be taking place in August is a great moment that will give people hope of better times to come.

“The Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday has given some organisers confidence but there is still a large amount of uncertainty ahead of us. With the Government only committing to provide a week’s notice on the lifting of all restrictions, this will mean for many it will just be too late and we will see further cancellations.

“This is why, despite the good news today, the Government must commit to further sector-specific support for our industry in the budget as we start our long road to recovery.”

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In response to the threat posed by the pandemic, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee launched an inquiry into the future of festivals.

Last month the committee wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to ask him to extend Government-backed insurance schemes to music and performing arts festivals.

Festivals added £1.76 billion in gross value to the economy in 2019, with almost one in three Brits watching Glastonbury on TV.

Reading and Leeds music festivals will go ahead this summer following the Government’s announcement of a road map out of lockdown, organisers have said.

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The sister events – known for their mix of rap, rock and pop – are due to take place between August 27 and 29 after both were cancelled in 2020 due to the onset of the pandemic.

According to plans announced on Monday, the Government hopes to lift all remaining restrictions on social contact by June 21 at the earliest.

This would mean larger events can go ahead and nightclubs can finally reopen.