The UK government has committed to developing a programme of quick turnaround mass testing, which could allow theatre audiences to return without social distancing this year.
Prime minister Boris Johnson unveiled plans to pilot the scheme at indoor and outdoor venues in Salford next month, ahead of a nationwide roll out. He said it could be used “even for some of the most difficult sectors like theatre”, whose venues have not been able to open fully since March.
According to Johnson they may now be able to do so in time for Christmas, with a UK-wide take-up of the scheme in place by spring 2021.
Plans include a “simple, quick and scaleable” test that could offer a user results in as little as 20 minutes, which, if negative, would give them a “passport to mingle with everybody else who is similarly not infectious in a way that is currently impossible”, Johnson said.
At a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister said he hoped millions of tests could be processed every day, allowing the population to lead normal lives without social distancing.
“Theatres, and sports venues could test audience members one day and let in all those with a negative result, all those who are not infectious. Workplaces would be opened up to all the who test negative in the morning, to behave in a way that is exactly like a world before Covid,” he said.
He added: “Work is underway now and we will get on at pace until we get there, round the clock. We’re hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring and if everything comes together, it may be possible even or some of the most difficult sectors like theatres to have life closer to normal before Christmas.”
It came as Johnson announced further restrictions on social gatherings to combat a steep rise in coronavirus cases.
While groups of more than six will not be allowed to gather, certain exemptions have been made by government to allow the economy to continue recovering.
These include theatres and live venues that are following Covid-secure guidelines.
According to a guidance document published by the government, “venues following Covid-19 secure guidelines can host more than six people in total, but no one should visit or socialise in a group of greater than six”.
“It is also important that people from different households (who are not meeting as a support bubble) remain socially distanced,” it added.
Johnson also warned that pilots for larger audiences may be scaled back, but whether these will cover any planned theatre pilots has not been confirmed.
He said: “At the present time we must also, I’m afraid, revise plans to pilot larger audiences in venues later this month and review our intention to return audiences to stadiums and conference centres from October 1. That doesn’t mean we’re going to scrap the programme entirely, it just means we are going to review and abridge it.”