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Ventilation risk strategies recommended by Government’s Events Research Programme

By Emily Wallin.

Venues and event organisers should consider their ventilation strategy, space utilisation, and movement of people as part of risk assessments tailored to every venue, the Government’s Events Research Programme has concluded.

The Government has today (Friday) published its final reports from the Events Research Programme (ERP).

More than 2m people were observed at 31 events as part of the research on reducing Covid-19 transmission risk informing government policy.

Today’s reports summarise the findings of the programme’s Behavioural and Environmental studies, a transmission study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a summary note encompassing the main learnings from the programme, including operational findings on Covid-status certification.

The study looked into the risk of transmission associated with attending events in the third phase of the ERP, and found that outdoor unstructured ERP events, specifically festivals, posed the highest increased transmission risk from events examined as part of the programme.

Scientists concluded that numerous factors were likely to have contributed to the higher transmission risk at these events, including high rates of unvaccinated attendees, community prevalence at the time of the events studied, the structure of the events, and the behaviour of attendees leading up to and after attending these events. Therefore, the results may not be applicable to other contexts.

The latest guidance for venues and event organisers states: “Venues and event organisers should consider their ventilation strategy, occupancy, operations, space utilisation, and people movement outcomes within an overall risk assessment tailored to each venue.

“While ventilation can reduce the risk of long-range airborne transmission, it does not eliminate the risks posed by other modes of transmission amongst close contacts (i.e. surface and droplet transmission). Appropriate mitigations are best adopted as part of a hierarchy of controls such as an enhanced ventilation strategy, requiring the wearing of face coverings and reducing crowding. High resolution fixed monitoring of air quality and people movement can be used to determine ventilation effectiveness and identify areas of higher risk to prioritise their improvement. For complex or large venues or high-occupancy events, specific mitigations are best developed in consultation with ventilation and crowd movement experts.”

In their finding scientists noted: “Good quality ventilation, for given occupancy levels, was observed in nearly all of the spaces monitored.

“Unstructured settings (e.g. where attendees were standing and could move about a space) were more likely to be associated with pockets of high crowding.”

The Environmental Study monitored ten venues for the duration of 55 events. In total, over 179 individual spaces were monitored using 370 CO2 monitors, which logged data every two minutes and transmitted it to a central database.

The research also found that visitors to events were more likely to wear face coverings when advised to do so – but noted that government rules on masks varied over the curse of the study.

Minister for sport, tourism, heritage and civil society Nigel Huddleston said: “The programme has provided an important template for event organisers the world over to continue to be able to plan their events safely and that’s great credit to the scientists behind this world-leading study.”

Professor Dame Theresa Marteau, chair of the Events Research Programme Science Board, said: “It has been a pleasure to lead the science board that has overseen this large-scale science-lead programme researching the risk of transmission from attending live events to help people get back to doing the things they love.

“We have gathered large amounts of data that can be used by the scientific community worldwide, event organisers and government for the best understanding to date of the risk of transmitting coronavirus at live events and how we can best keep this risk low.”