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Major Covid testing initiative announced – with plans for rehearsals and streamed performances

The move is being spearheaded in the performing arts world by SOLT and UK Theatre

Shaftesbury Avenue in London
© Garry Knight / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

A major programme of asymptomatic testing has been announced.

First unveiled by the government on 10 January, the scheme will see those who are unable to work from home (for example, artists working on streamed performances) able to use lateral flow testing to guarantee they are Covid-free.

Umbrella organisations SOLT and UK Theatre, which help venues both in the capital and across the country, are contributing to the facilitation of tests, allowing safe practices to be developed across the UK. They are currently assessing the number of tests needed and whereabouts these can be put to good use. The scheme currently looks set to be in place as-is until the end of March.

As noted in the government's release, around a third of those infected with Covid do not display any symptoms. In a statement, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "Rapid, regular testing is led by local authorities who design programmes based on their in-depth knowledge of the local populations, so testing can have the greatest impact."

"We are now expanding this offer to every local authority across the country, and asking testing to be targeted on workers who cannot work from home during this national lockdown, while asking employers to work with us to scale up workforce testing.

"Lateral flow tests have already been hugely successful in finding positive cases quickly – and every positive case found is helping to stop the spread - so I encourage employers and workers to take this offer up. We must all do all we can to stop the spread of COVID, right now." The lateral flow tests take about half an hour to deliver results, without needing to be sent to a laboratory.

Many venues are planning or have completed streamed productions while the pandemic continues, including Sheffield Theatres and Curve Leicester. The Old Vic has live-streamed a plethora of productions since the summer of 2020

Last week, Nimax Productions unveiled plans to transform space within the Palace Theatre into a mass-testing facility for West End performers, whenever socially distanced performances commence again. For months, companies such as Nimax, and the Troubadour production of Sleepless – A Musical Romance have been testing their teams to mitigate risks.

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