OBJECTIVES: To understand severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission risks, perceived risks and the feasibility of risk mitigations from experimental mass cultural events before coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) restrictions were lifted.
DESIGN: Prospective, population-wide observational study.
SETTING: Four events (two nightclubs, an outdoor music festival and a business conference) open to Liverpool City Region UK residents, requiring a negative lateral flow test (LFT) within the 36 h before the event, but not requiring social distancing or face-coverings.
PARTICIPANTS: A total of 12,256 individuals attending one or more events between 28 April and 2 May 2021.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: SARS-CoV-2 infections detected using audience self-swabbed (5-7 days post-event) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, with viral genomic analysis of cases, plus linked National Health Service COVID-19 testing data. Audience experiences were gathered via questionnaires, focus groups and social media. Indoor CO2 concentrations were monitored.
RESULTS: A total of 12 PCR-positive cases (likely 4 index, 8 primary or secondary), 10 from the nightclubs. Two further cases had positive LFTs but no PCR. A total of 11,896 (97.1%) participants with scanned tickets were matched to a negative pre-event LFT: 4972 (40.6%) returned a PCR within a week. CO2 concentrations showed areas for improving ventilation at the nightclubs. Population infection rates were low, yet with a concurrent outbreak of >50 linked cases around a local swimming pool without equivalent risk mitigations. Audience anxiety was low and enjoyment high.
CONCLUSIONS: We observed minor SARS-CoV-2 transmission and low perceived risks around events when prevalence was low and risk mitigations prominent. Partnership between audiences, event organisers and public health services, supported by information systems with real-time linked data, can improve health security for mass cultural events.