Government to review October 1 return of business events

The October 1 restart date for business events is set to be reviewed following an increase in the Covid-19 infection rate, the prime minister has announced.

Boris Johnson also announced that social gatherings with more than six people will be made illegal and punishable by dispersal, fines and arrest, in a bid to reduce the rate of infection.

Johnson added that the October restart would not necessarily be scrapped completely and said that the culture secretary would provide more details “shortly”.

The prime minister also revealed that the government had been working on a mass testing plan to return the UK “closer to normality”.

He said: “We will test 500,000 a day, and those testing negative will be allowed to behave in a more normal way in the knowledge they cannot infect anyone else.”

Mass testing of large audiences is set to take place in October in both indoor and outdoor venues.

He said: “It may be possible to deploy these tests on a far bigger scale, unlike anything carried out anywhere else. That level of testing would allow people to lead more normal lives without the need for social distancing.

“Theatres and sports venues could test an audience and let in anyone with a negative result. The same would apply to workplaces.

“We are going to pilot this approach in Salford from next month with audiences in indoor and outdoor venues and then we hope to go nationwide.”

The change in regulation comes after the UK’s number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. For groups of more than six people who are meeting socially indoors or outdoors, an initial fine of £100 will be imposed if they fail to disperse or comply, with subsequent fines doubling on each offence up to a maximum of £3,200.

During the Downing Street press briefing, Johnson admitted that over time, the rules had become “quite complicated and confusing“, adding that with the new rule of six the government was “simplifying and strengthening the rules, making them easier for everyone to understand and for the police to enforce.”

Lex Butler, chair of HBAA, commented: “HBAA is obviously tremendously disappointed by the latest government announcements switching the green light for large events from 1 October to amber and therefore on hold. Hopefully the measures being put in place for reducing the size of social gatherings will bring down the rate of infection allowing the restart of business events and meetings to go ahead.

“We are also waiting for the promised statement from the culture secretary and for clarification whether meetings of up to 30 people can continue to take place in permitted venues as, if they can, it would maintain the momentum that the industry’s recovery is developing.

“We did of course have a delay back in August for smaller meetings but were able to start a couple of weeks later, so we can only hope this will be similar. The recent pilot events and UKickstart event proved that our industry is ready to go ahead safely, but we must respect the seriousness of this situation.

“We must also seek significant economic support for every organisation and freelancer in the business events, accommodation and meetings sector, as our path to recovery is yet again challenged and we are already faced with massive uncertainty, huge impacts and risk to businesses and our people.”