The UK’s announcement of a staggered end to lockdown restrictions triggered a 600 percent increase in the country’s Ticketmaster sales last week. Concert-goers may have renewed confidence in future events, but how dependable is the projected timeline?
For a plan with the slogan “data not dates,” the UK’s reopening timeline is quick to specify dates while remaining vague on data benchmarks.
The basic plan is to reopen incrementally in four stages, with the first stage divided into two steps. The government has given the public a general timeframe by setting a tentative start date for each transition period. Crucially, however, each of these dates indicates the earliest possible point at which the new rules will take effect on the condition that each “test” (or sign of progress) is satisfied. It is a best-case scenario timeline.
As such, how much can event organizers rely on these projections? What kinds of trends should they be following if they want to anticipate possible delays?
To help answer these questions, we take a closer look at the UK government’s framework and what it means at this stage in the pandemic.
“Data not Dates” Means “Projections not Promises”
Beyond reassuring the public with the promise of a brighter future, the UK government’s timeline provides some insight into their decision-making process. It explains what they are hoping to achieve, and what they want to avoid.
The UK government’s website outlines the following four “tests” or requirements for sticking to plan:
1. “The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.”
2. “Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.”
3. “Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
4. “Our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.”
With that said, there are two major factors that add a significant element of unpredictability to their proposal:
- The government’s four “tests”, which function like caveats to a contract, are couched in general language that is open to interpretation.
- The timeline makes predictions based on existing data, and the fourth provision functions as an avenue to reassess based on the effects of potential future variants — the dangers of which the UK does not have a good record of tracking in real time.
While each stage includes a three-week period of data collection to assess the safety of moving forward, it is not clear exactly what kinds of numbers would be enough to derail the plan. Ultimately, all of the so-called tests hinge on continued signs of progress in Covid containment. In turn, this progress is largely dependent on the vaccine program — as well as its efficacy against potential new variants.
But what threshold the government is using for success or failure is anyone’s guess. For example, where do they set the bar for a vaccine to be deemed “sufficiently effective”? A minimum of 50 percent reduction in transmission rates, perhaps?
The UK government hasn’t defined its expectations in terms of firm numbers, but it has said that social distancing and event restrictions could be a thing of the past by June 21 of this year. And it is that message of optimism that appears to be resonating with the public. If summer festival ticket sales are any indication, consumer confidence is surging.
Event organizers, who have a much higher financial stake than ticket buyers, are pleased with the uptick in business but worried about the security of their own investments. Some are even lobbying for a government-backed insurance plan to protect against last-minute event cancellations.
The UK government has yet to make any commitments of financial support for the event industry, but it has promised to test the effects of larger gathering sizes and reduced social distancing with an event research pilot program set to begin in April.
There are also encouraging signs that the UK’s vaccine campaign is working. On the global scale, the UK stands out for its controversial decision to maximize the number of people receiving their first dose by delaying second doses. Thankfully, data suggests that just one dose of the Pfizer vaccine has so far reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by at least 75 percent in the UK. The nation has also organized one of the fastest vaccine rollout programs worldwide, with the government promising to provide every adult citizen with access to their first dose by the end of July.
The real question is whether new variants could possibly escape border controls — and the vaccine itself. It’s also unclear exactly what kind of numbers would cause the UK government to backtrack on its proposed timeline.
When the UK government throws out the phrase “data not dates,” it is really saying that the projected dates may have to change in the face of new data. While consumers and event organizers may be planning both their lives and livelihoods around the timeline, the government isn’t making any firm commitments — or even setting clear benchmarks. Instead, they are outlining general priorities and making predictions based on current successes.