Sports to kick off unlocking early, with pilot scheme for bigger crowds

Large crowds are to be allowed at sports matches before the full easing of lockdown under a new government pilot scheme of major events.

The Wimbledon tennis tournament and Silverstone, which is hosting the British Grand Prix on July 18, are understood to be in talks with officials about being included in the scheme, allowing more people to attend.

Some Euro 2020 football matches will be involved, while some theatres could also be included as part of a plan to introduce cultural events.

Speaking at a press conference to announce the delay to lockdown on Monday evening, Boris Johnson indicated that some events will be allowed larger crowds than under the restrictions currently in place elsewhere as part of the Government’s research programme.

"We will continue to pilot events such as Euro 2020 and some theatrical performances," he said.

He added that the Government was in talks with Andrew Lloyd Webber over the staging of his latest production, Cinderella. The Tory peer and musical theatre impresario had used an interview with The Telegraph to accuse the Prime Minister of bankrupting the theatre industry.

Mr Johnson said: "I’ve got colossal admiration for Andrew Lloyd Webber. The entire theatre sector is one of the great glories of this country and it’s broken everybody’s heart to see what we’ve had to go through. 

"I bitterly regret the fact that we must be cautious again now. And, actually, on Cinderella and Lord Loyd Webber’s latest production, I think we’re in talks with him to try to make it work and we’ll do whatever we can to be helpful.

Under the pilot scheme, which follows a similar initiative that allowed a club night and sports events to go ahead, officials will measure the spread of Covid among spectators in different scenarios.

Those will include fans being seated and unseated, with venues operating up to full capacity and with some using Covid passports via the NHS app. Use of the app is not expected to be compulsory, but attendees will be required to take tests to guarantee their status before and after the events.

Under a previous pilot, attendees were expected to take PCR tests, which measure the presence of the virus, and lateral flow tests, which do the same but are considered less reliable.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said the delay to the end of lockdown would not affect existing arrangements that allow a reduced number of fans to attend Euro 2020 matches at Wembley.

Wembley is currently operating at 25 per cent capacity – 22,500 people – for England’s group games on June 13, 18 and 22. The Euros final is to be held at the stadium on July 18.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman told reporters: "The large events pilots will be going forward to continue to test and trial Covid status certification.

"The plan is to do somewhere between 10 and 15 pilot events. They will be a mix of indoor and outdoor events. They will be a mix of seated and unseated events, operating up to full capacity where that is possible over the four weeks to July 19.

"It will include further Euros games at Wembley and other kinds of key sporting events, as well as trials at some cultural events to test some more indoor venues. The full list of those pilots and further details will be announced in the coming days."

The outcome of a government review into Covid status passports, chaired by Michael Gove, has been delayed to reflect the later date for stage four of the unlocking roadmap. The review will decide whether to implement the passports in the UK, which could include both vaccine and test status.

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