London’s Wembley Stadium welcomes back soccer fans for the first time in over a year on Sunday, part of trials the U.K. government hopes will enable the restart of mass events that were banned during the pandemic.
Four thousand spectators will be allowed to watch the FA Cup semifinal between Leicester City and Southampton -- a fraction of the stadium’s 90,000 capacity -- to allow scientists to begin examining the risk of virus transmission.
It’s one of a series of pilot events over the coming weeks to test how best to reopen larger venues safely. Some will not require social distancing or face coverings, according to official guidance published Friday.
Officials believe the events are crucial in getting the sports and culture sector back to normality as soon as possible, boosting jobs and growth. Prime Minister Boris Johnson aims to remove all restrictions -- including on large events -- on June 21.
But concerns are growing that the his “road map” out of lockdown could be knocked off course by the rise of new coronavirus variants which could prove to be partially vaccine-resistant.
Public Health England said Thursday that 77 cases of a new variant with potentially worrying mutations, first detected in India, have been identified in the U.K. Officials are concerned about the potential for virus variants to undermine the U.K.’s vaccine rollout.