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Health Secretary suggests 'Covid passes' could be key to dropping social distancing in theatres

The passes would be similar to pregnancy tests

An audience at The London Palladium
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has suggested the introduction of a 'Covid pass' test to enable live theatre without social distancing.

Talking to LBC on Monday, Hancock said that the tests would be a "holy grail" for getting sports and arts events without limited capacity. By taking these tests (similar in style to pregnancy tests) before heading out to shows or experiences, punters will be able to confirm they are Covid-free for a 24-hour window and as such sit without distancing within a venue.

"That is the hope that we hold out for the nation, that we can get things going even if there isn't a vaccine, that we can use mass testing so people can check whether they have the virus today, if they don't then (they can) go and do things, even if it means being in close confinement."

Hancock said that this might have real benefits for the arts industries: "There's a new technology that we're backing to get a test where you can have the turn around essentially on the spot and so you can imagine being able to go to something like the theatre, or a sports event, or to work, and you have the test, you get the result back and then they can go into the theatre."

Further references were made to the pregnancy-style tests during today's Prime Minister's Questions. No mention of who would pay for such tests or how they'd be distributed was mentioned. If such tests are to be conducted at venues, other practical logistics would also have to be considered.

Of course, all of this depends on having a successful track-and-trace system in place for the UK, and the development of a reliable and speedy test.

The UK government has come under repeated fire over the last few days for not having adequate volumes of tests available nationwide, with the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer raising the point a number of times with Boris Johnson during today's Prime Minister's Questions.

Testing in theatres isn't new – the new London production of Sleepless – A Musical Romance tests its cast on a daily basis, allowing all involved to then go onstage without observing distancing.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden had previously expressed hopes to see all venues open in time for Christmas, though no tangible dates have been given.