Sports stadiums and events across England will be able to operate at full capacity from July 19 after the government set out the next stage in the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, outlined the latest proposals at a press conference on Monday.
Crowds have either been kept out entirely or allowed in severely restricted numbers since the pandemic took hold in the UK in March last year.
But with test events with higher attendances held as part of a Government programme since April and the success of the vaccine rollout, full stadiums will be permitted for the start of the football season in August.
Social distancing will end while mandatory mask-wearing will also be scrapped – although guidance suggests people might choose to do so in “enclosed and crowded places”.
Recent test events have trialled the use of Covid certification – where spectators must provide proof of either full vaccination, a recent negative test or existing immunity – but these so-called ‘vaccine passports’ will not now be compulsory for entry although firms and events will be able to voluntarily use the system if they see fit.
It means fans will be able to attend if required tests are met and will also be able to stand, cheer and sing without breaching any regulations.
A decision on whether or not to go ahead with all the proposals will be made on July 12 following a review of the latest available data.
The Prime Minister said: “We’ll move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus.
“From step four we will remove all legal limits on the numbers meeting indoors and outdoors. We will allow all businesses to reopen, including nightclubs, we will lift the limit on named visitors to care homes and the numbers of people attending concerts, theatre, and sports events.”
A first attempt at reopening sports events at up to one-third of normal capacity on October 1 last year was scrapped amid rising cases, hospitalisations and deaths, with the country entering a second national lockdown just over a month afterwards.
Fans did return in very small numbers when the Government instituted the regionalised tier system at the start of December, but again a spike in cases and deaths led to that being abandoned by the end of that month.
The Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP) got under way in April and is now into its third phase, and has been looking at ways to get spectators back into venues in financially viable numbers.
The findings from the first phase of the ERP were published on June 25. It concluded that there were no substantial outbreaks linked to the nine sporting and cultural events featured in phase one, and found only 28 positive cases linked to the more than 58,000 people who took part in the test events.
Those events included the FA Cup final, one FA Cup semi-final, the Carabao Cup final and the World Snooker Championship.
However, the report said the data should be treated with “extreme caution” due to the low return rate of PCR tests from the participants.
Since May 17, all venues in England have been allowed to admit spectators on a limited basis as part of step three of the Covid recovery road map.
For outdoor venues with a seated capacity of 16,000 or above, the limit is 10,000 or 25 per cent of capacity, whichever is lowest.
For outdoor venues with less seating than that, the limit is 4,000 or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever is lowest. For indoor venues, the limit is 1,000 or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lowest.
Monday’s news will be positively received by sports clubs and governing bodies throughout the country.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has previously stated his hope that stadiums would be at full capacity for the start of the 2021-22 season in mid-August, while at EFL level the restoration of matchday revenue will have a hugely positive impact on club finances, which have been devastated by the pandemic.