Boris Johnson has announced tentative plans to trial mass rapid Covid testing for indoor and outdoor events next month.
According to the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon, "new types of test…will become available, that can turn around results in 90 or even 20 minutes." Johnson hopes that these tests will eventually be deployed "on a scale no other country has achieved".
The claimed intention is that, in the long run, citizens can "lead more normal lives without social distancing. Theatres and live sports events could test one day and then let in all of those with negative results the next."
Johnson revealed that there might be pilots trying out the scheme imminently: "In Salford next month we are going to test this with audiences in indoor and outdoor venues", and that, if successful, it "may be possible for some sectors like theatres to have life back to normal before Christmas".
While all positive rumblings, the absence of tangible policies right now means many producers will not be able to plan a sensible reopening strategy – with rehearsals, casting, marketing campaigns and more needed to get shows back on their feet.
Further details about this pilot event in Salford are to be announced, with Johnson describing it as a "Moonshot" operation. The idea of a Covid pass was mentioned earlier this week by the Health Secretary.
The Prime Minister admitted that this is an "ambitious agenda" and that, while hoping to pilot next month, the government is "not there yet" (and that it not a 100 per cent certainty), in a week where the UK government has come under fire for its lack of testing resources and a shortage of tests in some areas. The leader of the opposition Keir Starmer raised the point a number of times with Boris Johnson during today's Prime Minister's Questions.
Chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance said: "There are always unknown and isn't a slam dunk that can definitely happen", whole chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty added: "It isn't a wild guess but is based on established principles. We will have tests of this sort in the not-too-distant future…we have to make sure that they work and work at scale."
No mention of who would pay for these rapid 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.
Many venues, devoid of a clear timeline for reopening, have already had to make large-scale redundancies, with the RSC only the latest to signal consultations have begun while the furlough scheme is expected to end for the arts sector at the end of October.