Thousands of people letting loose on a nightclub dance floor. Hundreds of suited-up people gathering for a business conference. And none of them wearing masks.
As Britain slowly emerges from a lengthy lockdown, a flashback to life before the pandemic is taking place in Liverpool as part of a series of government-led experiments.
Liverpool on Wednesday hosted Britain’s first business conference since March 2020 and the northwestern English city will on Friday kick off a two-day nightclub event, the first in Britain in more than a year, and an outdoor music festival will take place on Sunday.
The events are part of a British government research project to see how mass gatherings can happen safely. Participants are asked to take a coronavirus test before events and are required to produce a negative result. Once they are inside the venues, social distancing and face coverings are not required.
The pilot events are taking place across England this month and next month, closely monitored by the health authorities. Some sports competitions with audiences have already been part of the program and thousands of people will gather in London next month for the Brit Awards music show, and soccer’s F.A. Cup final.
Every attendee will be asked to undergo a virus test after the event and the research gathered will shape the government’s policy on bringing back large events.
England has set a provisional date of June 21 for all of its virus restrictions to be dropped, including those on mass gatherings, and scientists are hoping that the events that they are monitoring will provide insights into how to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
Britain has in recent days reported its lowest number of infections since September and has given a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine to more than half its population.
In other updates from around the world:
Authorities at tollbooths and ports in Greece on Friday have turned back hundreds of people attempting to defy virus restrictions on travel between regions ahead of Orthodox Easter, the most important date in the religious calendar. Although cases have stabilized in recent weeks, deaths and hospitalizations remain high. Greece has gradually lifted restrictions in recent weeks, including ending quarantine requirements for visitors from dozens of countries, as it prepares to fully reopen its tourism sector next month.
While Spain is expected to lift its nationwide state of emergency on May 9, allowing for the return of tourists in June, some regional administrations are preparing to extend their own lockdown measures for longer. Cases are down, and more people are getting vaccinated. Reopening tourism is key to the economy, which contracted in the first quarter, the government said on Friday. Tourism arrivals dropped to 19 million last year, after seven years of growth, from 84 million in 2019.
In Portugal, Prime Minister António Costa announced late Thursday that the country’s only land border — with Spain — would reopen on Saturday, having remained shut since January. Portugal is also fast-tracking the removal of lockdown restrictions after reducing significantly its coronavirus infection rate.
Raphael Minder and Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting.