Breaking Boris: What does the UK Government "Roadmap" really mean?
Monday 22nd February, 2021. The long anticipated announcement by the UK Government of a real "roadmap" towards life without Covid 19 restrictions. Whilst many points were predicted, expected even. What took most interest was a magical date in June where it "could" all be over...finally!
We put "could" as our major worry coming off of the announcement is that once again we are given a date, one we all long for and then use it as some sort of Starter's gun for events, holiday, travel etc. In fact reading a press article just the morning after, one national newspaper lorded the fact there would be 90,000 people inside Wembley Stadium just a day after 21st June for an England football match! So we ask the question, did you just hear what you ideally wanted from the roadmap? Or is it time to take a breath, digest the information, implications of said map and take it for what it really is...positive yes, but suggestive at best.
What we are challenging event professionals and clients alike is to look beyond the so called end date - 21st June. That is an absolute best case scenario and not Day 1 of life post Covid. As an event agency we like so many others in this industry long for a return to live events, site visits, fam trips, industry forums that we enjoy and miss so much. But we have a responsibility to our clients, our guests, delegates, staff, suppliers, venues and industry to act and advise in the best interests of all involved.
Seeing 21st June as a start date in our opinion is taking a huge risk. Not only in the safety of the event, but the potential damage such event may cause further down the line. If we act too fast we could quite easily find ourselves back with restrictions being put in place. So here are a few things we would like you to consider first.
It is estimated that in the UK all adults will have been vaccinated at least once by July. Simple maths will then take you to a date by end of September before all will have received their second and final dosage. Are we as event professionals prepared to roll the dice on large gatherings before we all (staff, guests, delegates) have all received our best chance of resistance to the virus?
These dates again are UK based, so what additional impact will there be for international delegates attending who are on a different vaccination schedule? For those intent on holding a large live event before this, we would strongly advise guests and delegates on their movements up to and the time leading up to the event. You should consider that travel, and social plans could mean quarantines and testing on or before your event. This then causing an impact on attendance, event staff at your event.
Events Research Programme
Within the announcement was the set up of an Events Research Programme set for April. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have been working with event industry representatives to explore when and how events with larger crowd sizes, less social distancing or in settings where transmission is more likely (i.e. indoors), will be able to return safely. This includes conferences and exhibitions, as well as consumer events such as festivals and sporting events.
This programme will include a series of pilots using enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes. The pilots will start in April and will determine the ability to be able to lift restrictions on events and sectors as part of Step 4.
At this point in time, can you plan for the unknown?
For those looking to plan events early into Step 4 you will have to consider the data from what happens at the trial events within the research programme phase. This is not to simply determine what event and how large can it be? But what are the practicalities of holding large events?
Will the trial programme put a delay into the roadmap as seen previously in August 2020? It is logical to think that as per the last time we went to trial events, we had to delay due to health and safety protocols. Whilst vaccinations is a huge game changer in this area, are we going to get it right first time and run to schedule? Likelihood of that is not high in our opinion.
What measures will be put in place from the trial events? There is still huge debate over the possibility of Covid (vaccination) Passports. Whilst it is likely to be adopted in some fashion, even required for international travel. It will throw huge challenges both morally and practically for domestic events. How as event professionals are we going to manage this? Do we need proof of vaccination on entry, at registration, testing and proof before such points? Can we even enforce this legally?
Added to this we refer back to our vaccination point. Will we need all staff, delegates or guests to have both vaccinations before they can attend or work at the event?
Where do we stand?
There is no doubt that the announcement of the roadmap and the steps with dates set out offer us hope and should only be seen as highly positive news. We do need to recognise that caution is the best roadmap back to live events and social gatherings. Our stance as an agency is to advise our clients to stick to the current plan. That being we work on virtual and hybrid events as scheduled for the majority of this year.
For those wanting to plan for live, and we are doing so with clients. We are very much focussed on Q4. This seems to be the safest option as we will be so much further along the way from where we are now. We are currently standing on a moving platform where anything can and will happen. Look at how much has changed monthly across the pandemic. Let's just take a pause and wait for the science...to use government terminology.
In a few months time we will be in a much stronger position to advise and plan. It could lead to small to medium size live events across the summer. But we will work on that when we know more and in the best position to advise.
Yes it may be cautious, yes it may mean we will get less live events, even international events on our roster this year. But it will mean we will be acting sensibly, making informed decisions based on the research and giving best advice to our clients, not just telling them what we think they want to hear. Or what we would like to hear!
That is our role and responsibility to both clients and our industry.