Major events get COVID-safe makeover

But experts say some of our most popular events could look drastically different, with reduced crowd sizes and mandatory mask-wearing.The looming threat of community outbreaks and a possible return to lockdown has made it hard for event organisers to confidently plan ahead.Four leading epidemiologists — Australian National University Professor Peter Collignon, Deakin University Chair of Epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett, Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely and former World Health Organisation epidemiologist and University of South Australia Professor Adrian Esterman — have weighed in on the future of major events.


PC: The march is outdoors, it’s much less of a risk than being in the RSL club. If you’re keeping your distance and you’re outside and you don’t have much community transmission I would think it’s not a huge risk. I think going to the RSL for a drink afterwards is a much higher risk than going to the march. I’m not quite sure I see the point in stopping the march.
CB: Like most of these things it’s probably not the event itself because you can manage that reasonably well but if you’re trying to get people to a rallying point to start the march then it can be really hard to manage. You’d have to wait and see how they’d pulled it off particularly with a vulnerable age group being the focus in the parade, that’s the concern.
TB: You’ve got no social distancing and you’ve got people who are very vulnerable to COVID so it doesn’t make much sense to proceed basically. I think that’s fairly clear-cut.

CB: Density limits will still be in place so therefore audience numbers might be capped lower than previous years at each venue, and therefore might make some tickets even harder to get.
AE: If there continues to be zero community transmission in Australia when the events occur, then they are pretty safe, even the indoor ones like the Comedy Festival. However, mask wearing would still need to be mandatory.


CB: It’s still early days in the global vaccine rollout, but we are unlikely to be ready for Olympic Games that look anything like those we know by July. It would be a mammoth effort to organise quarantine for the thousands of international arrivals. Even if this is possible, the spectators will be restricted in number and only locals and those who have quarantined … assuming Japan can continue to bring down the case numbers in their current second wave
PC: The Olympics will depend on what happens in Japan over their winter and whether numbers come down very substantially everywhere else in the world by spring in northern hemisphere is by April/May so only very limited spread – and I have doubts about that.
AE: It is highly likely the Olympics will go ahead. As for safety, I imagine that crowds will be limited and mask wearing mandatory. Would I go? Not unless I had been vaccinated.


CB: This is a local state-based event and late enough in the year that we should be in a good position to go ahead now we are experienced in COVID-safe planning and crowd management. QR codes or ticket scanning can track people’s movements between pavilions, rides and attractions should this become an exposure site.
AE: For these events, they very much depend on the status of community transmission in Australia and how well the vaccine rollout is going.
TB: It is important that we, Victorians, have social and sporting and other events where possible in 2021. It will get easier as time moves on, due to increasing vaccination rates. But there is still considerable risk and uncertainty.


CB: I would love to see the grand final back in Melbourne this year, and that includes the parade to kick it off. Definitely with spectators present and with the full blessing of the health authorities – not having seen an outbreak in Melbourne for months, and with most Victorians vaccinated. Let’s make it happen.
AE: For events that occur later in the year like the AFL Grand Final Parade, a high proportion of the population will have been vaccinated, making it safer.


CB: Hopefully by November we won’t even have to wonder whether outdoor events like this will happen. The indoor venues will still be operating with COVID-safe plans, and the betting rings and outdoor bars and meal areas will need some monitoring to ensure attendees do stay a safe distance. even as the day progresses and some find themselves a tad “tired and emotional”.
PC: Outside is safer than inside, so numbers can be more relaxed for daytime outdoor functions but there will still be limits. Also indoors with alcohol use much more of a risk.
TB: Organising and running major events in the time of COVID-19 is very different from pre-COVID. For any proposed event, there are many considerations before approval (with likely risk mitigation strategies) can be made.


CB: Large scale concerts could be back by year’s end, especially in outdoor venues like the MCG. Dedicated seating means even if it turns out an infectious person was present, only those people in that section would be impacted. Crowd numbers may be limited if there is still a real threat of community transmission in Victoria … this crowd is bound to be very vocal and we know that’s a transmission risk.
PC: The crowd limit will depend on community clusters, which I think will invariably occur again eg Sydney and Melbourne last December, but should be able to be controlled with limits on venues homes, rather than full lockdowns.

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