Coronavirus: Government sets out return to full capacity events from July 19

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance briefed the nation on the proposed road map at a press conference on Monday.

Wembley has seen a gradual increase in permitted attendances during this summer's Euro 2020 tournament
Image: Wembley has seen a gradual increase in permitted attendances during this summer's Euro 2020 tournament

Sports stadiums and events across England will be able to operate at full capacity from July 19 after the government set out the next stage in the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, outlined the latest proposals at a press conference on Monday.

Crowds have either been kept out entirely or allowed in severely restricted numbers since the pandemic took hold in the UK in March last year.

But with test events with higher attendances held as part of a Government programme since April and the success of the vaccine rollout, full stadiums will be permitted for the start of the football season in August.

Social distancing will end while mandatory mask-wearing will also be scrapped - although guidance suggests people might choose to do so in "enclosed and crowded places".

Recent test events have trialled the use of Covid certification - where spectators must provide proof of either full vaccination, a recent negative test or existing immunity - but these so-called 'vaccine passports' will not now be compulsory for entry although firms and events will be able to voluntarily use the system if they see fit.

It means fans will be able to attend if required tests are met and will also be able to stand, cheer and sing without breaching any regulations.

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A decision on whether or not to go ahead with all the proposals will be made on July 12 following a review of the latest available data.

The Prime Minister said: "We'll move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus.

"From step four we will remove all legal limits on the numbers meeting indoors and outdoors. We will allow all businesses to reopen, including nightclubs, we will lift the limit on named visitors to care homes and the numbers of people attending concerts, theatre, and sports events."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson briefed the nation on the proposed road map out of coronavirus at a press conference on Monday
Image: Prime Minister Boris Johnson briefed the nation on the proposed road map out of coronavirus at a press conference on Monday

A first attempt at reopening sports events at up to one-third of normal capacity on October 1 last year was scrapped amid rising cases, hospitalisations and deaths, with the country entering a second national lockdown just over a month afterwards.

Fans did return in very small numbers when the Government instituted the regionalised tier system at the start of December, but again a spike in cases and deaths led to that being abandoned by the end of that month.

The Government's Events Research Programme (ERP) got under way in April and is now into its third phase, and has been looking at ways to get spectators back into venues in financially viable numbers.

The findings from the first phase of the ERP were published on June 25. It concluded that there were no substantial outbreaks linked to the nine sporting and cultural events featured in phase one, and found only 28 positive cases linked to the more than 58,000 people who took part in the test events.

Those events included the FA Cup final, one FA Cup semi-final, the Carabao Cup final and the World Snooker Championship.

However, the report said the data should be treated with "extreme caution" due to the low return rate of PCR tests from the participants.

Wimbledon are welcoming full capacity crowds for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals this week
Image: Wimbledon are welcoming full capacity crowds for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals this week

Since May 17, all venues in England have been allowed to admit spectators on a limited basis as part of step three of the Covid recovery road map.

For outdoor venues with a seated capacity of 16,000 or above, the limit is 10,000 or 25 per cent of capacity, whichever is lowest.

For outdoor venues with less seating than that, the limit is 4,000 or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever is lowest. For indoor venues, the limit is 1,000 or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lowest.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has previously stated his hope that stadiums would be at full capacity for the start of the 2021-22 season in mid-August, while at EFL level the restoration of matchday revenue will have a hugely positive impact on club finances, which have been devastated by the pandemic.

A Premier League statement read: "Fans have been hugely missed so we welcome today's announcement by the Government, and are looking forward to full stadiums in the 2021/22 season.

"As we move towards a Government decision on Step 4 of the roadmap and beyond, we will continue to work with football stakeholders and relevant public authorities to ensure that the return to full capacity is done in a way that keeps everyone safe."

EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said the announcement would allow it to "finally press forward with our plans to see a full return of fans to EFL stadiums" from the start of the new campaign.

He added in a statement: "Football has been planning for this outcome since the outset of the pandemic and having been forced to endure empty stadiums since March 2020, the message from EFL clubs is that we are ready to re-open and welcome fans back in numbers.

"From the EFL's own participation in the Events Research Programme (ERP) and our clubs' extensive experience built up over many years, we are confident that all our clubs can successfully manage large-scale events and we will continue to work with the Government on the guidance that will help support their matchday operations."

Royal Ascot saw up to 12,000 in attendance as part of a Government pilot scheme
Image: Royal Ascot saw up to 12,000 in attendance as part of a Government pilot scheme

'Wonderful news' for racecourses as busy month awaits

Officials at the Racecourse Association and British Horseracing Authority have welcomed the Prime Minister's announcement.

The RCA, through its working groups and partnerships within the sport, will now focus its attention to supporting racecourses in preparing for full capacities and seeking similar clarification from devolved governments in Scotland and Wales.

Since May 17 there has been a cap of 4,000 allowed at meetings, except for Royal Ascot where up to 12,000 could attend as part of a Government pilot scheme.

The news of the lifting of limited numbers will come as a boost to the sport, especially with big meetings such as the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 24, five days of Glorious Goodwood from July 27-31 and York's Ebor meeting from August 18-21 on the horizon.

RCA chief executive David Armstrong said: "It has been 476 days since British racecourses were able to welcome racegoers without restriction. Clearly this has been a difficult time for racecourses on both a commercial level, we estimate the pandemic has cost racecourses £400m, and human level - we have deeply missed the atmosphere and presence of racegoers.

"The clarity provided by today's Government announcement is wonderful news for racecourses in England and we will continue to work closely with our industry partners and the devolved governments for an update from Wales and Scotland.

"With some of the sport's marquee events to come including the Qatar Goodwood Festival, York's Ebor Festival and the Cazoo St Leger Festival at Doncaster, our attention now turns to helping racecourses prepare for a fantastic summer.

"Certain restrictions may remain in place to protect racing's participants, but we will work closely with our partners across the sport to remove these as quickly as is possible whilst maintaining their safety."

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