Covid: Rapid tests and vaccines 'will allow venues to reopen' - minister

Published
comments
Comments
Related Topics
media captionThe government is not planning for domestic vaccine passports, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi says

A combination of rapid testing and the Covid vaccination programme will help entertainment venues to reopen in England, the vaccines minister says.

Nadhim Zahawi said it was those measures which would get "our economy back on its feet".

His comments come after the PM said "rapid" lateral flow tests could be used by "those parts of the economy we couldn't get open last year".

Industry bosses have queried whether using rapid tests would be practical.

Some venues such as nightclubs have been unable to open since March 2020, while others like theatres and cinemas have struggled to make social distancing work.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Zahawi said: "It's a combination of rapid testing as well as a national vaccination programme that will get our economy back on its feet and venues open again."

He said that the government favoured testing over vaccine passports as a means to reopening the economy, since it was not yet clear whether a vaccinated individual could still transmit the virus.

Mr Zahawi described preliminary evidence on the effect of vaccines on coronavirus transmission as "really encouraging", but said the full data might not be available for weeks.

"We have a couple of very large-scale studies related to giving us better data on the vaccines," he said. "We should be able to see really good data in the next few weeks from those studies."

He added that the government would be "data driven, rather than date driven" when it comes to relaxing lockdown measures.

media captionHow theatres are changing in the age of coronavirus

Boris Johnson is due to set out a road map on 22 February for easing the lockdown in England.

At Monday's Downing Street briefing, the prime minister said lateral flow tests, along with vaccination, would "probably be the route forward" to reopening the economy.

Lateral flow tests give a result in 20-30 minutes - unlike the more expensive PCR tests used by NHS Test and Trace which need to be taken to a lab to be processed.

'Not viable'

The UK Cinema Association said asking all customers to have a rapid test and then to wait 30 minutes for a result would be "impractical" and in many instances add a "50% uplift on their cinema ticket".

Its chief executive, Phil Clapp, said he was not aware of any of its members considering rapid testing or vaccine passports "as a viable way forward for the return to cinema".

He added that he believed cinemas offered a "materially different environment than nightclubs or music venues".

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of trade association UKHospitality, said the organisation would be "keen to understand" the government's plans for mass lateral flow testing in the community and workplaces.

She also said the industry body stood ready to work with ministers on "a risk-assessed approach to be applied on a voluntary basis where proportionate, pragmatic and necessary".

Michael Kill, the boss of the Night Time Industries Association, welcomed the PM's comments, saying: "Finally we have some acknowledgement from the prime minister and government on the existence of late-night economy businesses, including nightclubs, theatres, casinos and late bars, particularly as they are some of the hardest hit since the start of the pandemic."

However, he told the BBC that administering rapid tests would not be straightforward.

He said professionals would be required to administer swab tests outside the venue, which would force venues to stagger admissions and have procedures in place to deal with positive cases and those who they came into contact with.

Sacha Lord, who co-founded Manchester's Parklife Festival, said the events sector had been calling for on-site rapid testing for more than five months, and any further delay to implementing such initiatives would do "irreversible" damage to the UK's cultural sector.

"My fear is that they take another five months to get moving, which the industry simply doesn't have," he said.

The UK recorded a further 10,625 new infections on Tuesday, down 14% from 12,364 last Tuesday. There were also another 799 deaths within 28 days of a positive test - down 24% from 1,052 last Tuesday.

Meanwhile, people arriving in England who are required to quarantine in a hotel face an additional £1,200 bill if they test positive for coronavirus, the government has said.This is on top of the £1,750 cost for the entering the quarantine hotel programme and will apply to guests forced to extend their stay beyond the initial 11 nights.

The information was published on the government's website on Monday, the day the new rules came into force for arrivals who have been in a high-risk Covid country.

West Midlands Police have fined four passengers £10,000 for failing to declare they had travelled from a "red-list" country.

More on this story