Festival season could 'amplify' Covid spread once schools return, Yorkshire academic warns

This summer’s festival season could ‘amplify’ the spread of coronavirus once pupils head back to school next month, a Yorkshire academic and Government advisor has warned, as the first event-heavy Bank Holiday of the last 18 months drew to a close.

Festival goers relaxing by their tents at the Reading Festival at Richfield Avenue. (PA/Kirsty O'Connor)
Festival goers relaxing by their tents at the Reading Festival at Richfield Avenue. (PA/Kirsty O'Connor)

Cities like Leeds which played host to concerts and other spectacles could see themselves with “higher spikes” of infections, Professor Catherine Noakes warned, adding: “The question is, is whether that spike comes back down again, or whether it stays high.”

There are concerns that cases will spike once again when classrooms reopen in the coming days, with the Government trying to persuade parents, secondary school pupils and college students to take part in voluntary regular asymptomatic Covid-19 testing.

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Speaking in a personal capacity, the University of Leeds academic and member of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) Professor Noakes told The Yorkshire Post the impact of people who have attended large events then returning to teaching could “bring infection with them.”

She said: “We are going into the new school year. And a lot of people are going back to work at a time when we’ve got really quite high rates of cases around the country.

“I think the festivals potentially may amplify that further because a lot of the people who are at those festivals are the age groups who will then go into the schools and universities and be the people who may sort of bring infection with them that they’ve caught elsewhere.”

Leeds Festival was one of a number of events held across the country over the Bank Holiday weekend with revellers travelling from far and wide to enjoy the three days of music for the first time since 2019.

When asked whether places which played host to events could see more infections than those which didn’t in the coming weeks, Prof Noakes said: “I think it’s possible it will be a higher spike.

“You’ve got groups who are less likely to have had certainly both vaccinations, who go to these festivals and they are settings where people interact quite closely together.

“So although they’re outdoors a lot of them are not truly outdoors because a lot of them are people in crowded spaces, they’re in tents.

She added: “I think we may well see a spike of infections. The question is whether that spike comes back down again, or whether it stays high.”

Valentina Viduto, a founder of the Long-Covid Foundation based in Leeds said it had been “insane” to let festivals and large events go ahead this summer.

She told The Yorkshire Post: “It’s insane to organise these festivals at the first instance, especially when we see that in Scotland, since schools opened hospitalisations are already increasing.

Yesterday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urged parents to make sure that children are tested regularly for Covid and warned youngsters not to get “carried away” with the return to school.

Writing in the Daily Mail, he said: “At long last, we will see children once more free to chase a football around, sing in a choir or just hang out with friends. I am absolutely delighted”.

He added: “It is important not to get too carried away with these new freedoms and throw caution to the wind.

“The fact that we are in the happy position we are now is because everyone has worked hard to follow the national guidelines. We still need to do so.”

A spokesman for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We’ve shown that we can reintroduce mass events safely but it is important that people remain cautious when mixing in very crowded settings.

“So that we can keep festivals, gigs, and cultural events safe will full crowds, music fans are encouraged to get the vaccine as this is the safest way we can get big events back up and running.”