Latitude 2021 – first photos from Friday – and is there any point in COVID trial events?

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Girl on sholders of man at Latitude 2021

It’s been a long, long time, but arriving at Latitude Festival 2021 felt like coming home.

Despite what is still going on in the outside world some sense of normality appeared to have been achieved.

OK, so the event lost a couple of acts due to self-isolation issues (but given that resulted in Sports Team grabbing a main stage set on Saturday that was no bad thing) – and there is a need to submit valid negative COVID tests to be on site – but other than that things feel pretty much as we remembered festivals being like back before all this craziness began.

This, of course, is only Friday, and things may change. For instance, there is still plenty of time for some big name acts to be forced to drop out following an unwanted ‘ping’. And if, come Saturday and Sunday, rafts of people find themselves taking their second test (pre-event negative tests are only valid on site for 48 hours) and showing up as positive, will this lead to a mass exodus and audience numbers dwindling.

This eventuality is, of course, highly unlikely – but this is a ‘trial event’ – so anything could happen!

A big question however, is ‘what is the real point of the government’s trial COVID events programme?’

The first round of trials only had results published after legal action was threatened, and even then Download – the only big festival on the list – didn’t feature in the analysis. This may have been because it only took place shortly before the numbers came out, but surely there has been time to update the findings by now?

And more critically, the level of enforcement around gathering crucial data about attendees was woefully inadequate. By the admission of the report authors any conclusions about the behaviours and infection rates of people pre and post-event was so low (only 15% completed and submitted lateral flow tests both before and after shows) that no solid statistical data was really available.

Out of 55,000 people attending the events included in the study only 17 were found to have been infected at some time close to the event they were at (although there is no way of proving that they contracted the virus there). And only another 11 individuals were found who might possibly have been infectious whilst present at one or other of the events.

In context, that is 0.03% people ‘possibly’ infected whilst arguably in a situation where high risks existed due to prolonged proximity to active virus carriers.

It might be argued that requirements for advance testing would have reduced the numbers in attendance who were knowing carriers of the COVID virus. However, human nature being what it is it’s quite likely that many people determined to get back out to their favourite venue or event may well have simply falsified a positive test and reported it as negative in order to gain entry. Not, of course, that we would ever advocate or condone such behaviour!

All this said, Latitude stated that the reason they had opted to go into the trial programme was that if the government had decided that it was too risky to implement ‘freedom day’ they would still have been able to go ahead. This was an interesting take on ‘government event insurance’ and we’d be fascinated to find out how events were able to ‘opt’ into the trials and why others taking place this weekend where very similar controls are in place didn’t make the same decision.

It’s also perhaps questionable whether it would have been a morally correct move to go ahead with an event of this nature if the scientists had advised government that it was unsafe to remove national restrictions due to spiralling infection rates.

Let’s see what the next few days bring us…

Photos by and John Bownas

Decklan Mckenna, Dry Cleaning, Squid, Wolf Alice, Mabel, The Staves, Stephen Fretwell, Dream Wife, Beebadoobee, Maisie Peters

Rating: 4 out of 5.


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