Covid-19 rapid tests need a 30-minute turnaround to become practical, says chief of Portsmouth's Kings Theatre

A PROPOSED rapid Covid-19 test for live performance audiences needs a quick turnaround time to be practical, according to the head of the Kings Theatre – but he says the show can go on even without testing.

By Richard Lemmer
Thursday, 18th February 2021, 11:00 am

Venues across the country are waiting for further details after a briefing from prime minister Boris Johnson this week, during which he said he was looking at a raft of options to allow people to return in-person to theatres, music venues, and nightclubs

These venues were ‘the toughest nuts to crack’ when it came to audience safety, the prime minster said, before suggesting rapid testing as one of several solutions.

He said: ‘I think for the purposes of this country and doing things within the domestic UK economy, we will look at everything.

The Kings Theatre in Portsmouth put in place a wide range of safety measures to ensure last year's pantomime went go ahead. Photograph: Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency

‘But what we are thinking of at the moment is more of a route that relies on mass vaccination…plus lateral flow testing, rapid testing for those bits of the economy that are the toughest nuts to crack, such as nightclubs or theatres...I think that will be the route that we go down and that businesses will go down.’

Rapid testing must mean a result within 30 minutes, as it will stretch the patience of audience members to wait any longer, according to Paul Woolf, CEO of the Kings Theatre in Southsea.

He said: ‘If the test is simple and easy and quick, we may work – provided that it doesn’t add 30 minutes to the wait to get in.

‘Anything longer than 30 minutes isn’t practical.’

The government had shelved plans to open rapid-turnaround coronavirus test centres across England over Christmas amid concerns about accuracy of their results.

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What’s needed at present is more concrete details on how venues can reopen, the theatre head said.

The suggestion of several options – made without further details – had become ‘typical’ of the government.

Paul continued: ‘They float these ideas before someone has sat down and figured out if they are going to work.

‘The devil will be in the details.

‘Why hasn’t this been sorted earlier? What have they been doing?’

‘At the moment, it’s so unclear. We have arrived at a dystopian, mad place – it’s become insane.’

If a testing system is not required, The Kings Theatre remains confident it can reopen safely – and balance the books with a socially distanced audience.

The theatre bought more than 15,000 masks last year, but used less than half of these as it was closed for more than nine months last year.

Paul said: ‘We are already equipped for masks and social distancing. We know what we can sell.

‘Economically, it works – but it’s not great.’

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