Ministers say rapid testing could be 'route forward' for opening nightclubs and theatres

16 February 2021, 11:56

Nighgtclubs could reopen with lateral flow testing, Boris Johnson said
Nighgtclubs could reopen with lateral flow testing, Boris Johnson said. Picture: Getty

By Maddie Goodfellow

Nightclubs and theatres could be allowed to reopen with the use of rapid coronavirus testing, ministers have suggested.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference on Monday, Boris Johnson lateral flow tests could be the "route forward" to reopening those industries that have been "the toughest nuts to crack".

Nightclubs have been shut in the UK last March, while theatres reopened in the summer but only at reduced capacities, before closing again during lockdown.

Asked about the prospect of "vaccine passports" as a way of reopening venues, the PM said this is likely for international travel, but that testing would be a likelier means of allowing businesses within the UK to reopen.

"Some countries, clearly, are going to be wanting to insist that people coming to their country have evidence of a vaccination - just as people have insisted in the past that you have evidence you are vaccinated against Yellow Fever or other diseases," Mr Johnson said.

He continued: "For the purposes of this country and doing things within the domestic UK economy, we will look at everything.

"But what we are thinking of at the moment is more of a route that relies on mass vaccination - we intend to vaccinate all of the adults in the country by the autumn - plus lateral flow testing, rapid testing for those bits that have been the toughest nuts to crack.

"Such as nightclubs or theatres - those parts of the economy we couldn't get open last year.

"I think that will be the route that we go down and that businesses will go down. You are already seeing lots of business using the potential of rapid, on-the-day testing as well.

"I think that, in combination with vaccination, will probably be the route forward."

Speaking to Iain Dale on LBC, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said rapid testing is a “much better way” to allow cinemas and theatres to reopen than introducing vaccine passports.

"It is a private sector decision, but we don't yet know the impact on transmission of being vaccinated, so cinemas and clubs need to think that through.

"If you don't know whether an individual who has been vaccinated can still transmit the virus then it does slightly make it problematic for that idea.

"Much better to look at rapid testing, as is used by many employers, I think rapid testing is a much better way, of course combined with a national vaccination programme."

His suggestion was backed by the World Health Organisation's special envoy on Covid-19, Dr David Nabarro, who told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "The secret to getting life back to some degree of normality for most of us is going to be the availability of really reliable, super-quick tests.

"That will make movement so, so much easier."

And the CEO of the UK's largest nightclub group, Peter Marks, told LBC "we have got to do something to get back to normality."

Speaking to LBC's Tom Swarbrick, the head of REKOM UK said: "I can understand some people being horrified by the idea of passports and testing, but people in the nightclub world think that they will listen to anything that can get them back, because we've been shut for nearly a year.

"Unlike most of hospitality, we've not been able to open at all. But then again, can you imagine it, those who have had the vaccine right now are all over 70! So there are flaws in the system all over the place.

He continued: "I do understand why people would be upset with their liberty, but we have got to do something to get back to normality."

Asked if he would want to know if club-goers have been vaccinated when he can reopen, Mr Marks said: "Most of our customers are young enough and healthy enough - people should be able to make their own choices and assess the risk.

"We've been told we need so many things - lateral flow tests, spray screens, all things that nightclubs just won't fit in with, if he only way we can come back is with a vaccine passport then we'd have to give it a go.

"But it's not where we ant to be."

Lateral flow tests have been used by the government as part of "surge testing" in areas with high coronavirus rates.

They can give results in 30 minutes and are also currently being offered to people who do not have symptoms in a range of settings, such as universities, schools, care homes and workplaces.

Last week, the government ordered 20 million lateral flow tests in a new contract with a Derby-based manufacturer.The SureScreen Diagnostics tests - the first British tests to be validated in the laboratory by Public Health England - are in the final stage of validation in clinical trials.

In total, the government is reported to have spent more than £1 billion on lateral flow tests.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, last week described lateral flow tests as a "really important part of our toolkit", despite previous doubts over their reliability.