In the Australian Government’s ‘3-step framework for a COVIDSafe Australia’, Steps 1 and 2 allow for small family and community gatherings and slightly larger gatherings with more businesses reopening, respectively. Step 3 is described as: “A commitment to reopening business and the community with minimal restrictions, but underpinned by COVIDSafe ways of living.”
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has released a statement advising that very high risk environments should not operate as part of Step 3. Such environments include: nightclubs, dance venues and large unstructured outdoor events — these events include music festivals, food festivals, schoolies graduation festivals, carnivals, some community sporting events and other unticketed spectator events.
Very high risk environments carry risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission due to their large numbers, crowding and queuing, people in close proximity and mixing between people who do not know each other. Additionally, activities such as dancing and singing, alongside intimate physical contact such as hugging and kissing, could increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission in these environments.
The risks could also be compounded by the service of alcohol and the use of illicit drugs, poor ventilation of indoor venues and an increased risk of the virus being on surfaces that many patrons touch. These factors all represent a risk to control of COVID-19 and starting new outbreaks across Australia.
The underlying principles of the 3-step framework include maintaining 1.5 metres distancing and good hygiene, staying home if unwell, frequently cleaning and disinfecting communal areas, and developing a ‘COVIDSafe plan’ for workplaces and premises. In Step 3 of the framework, while a commitment to reopening business and the community with minimal restrictions is outlined, this is underpinned by COVIDSafe ways of living.
State and territory health authorities will decide whether very high risk environments can open or hold events after successful implementation of the 3-step framework. This will be based on the COVID-19 situation — however, large-scale, multi-stage and multi-day events (where people stay overnight over a number of days) will not be allowed. In making these decisions, state and territory health authorities will consider local case numbers and how the virus is transmitted in the community, the national COVID-19 situation, the risk of disease importation from domestic or international locations and the type of public health measures in place in the jurisdiction.
State and territory authorities will also consider the capacity of the health system to detect and manage COVID-19 cases and the capacity of public health authorities to contact trace close contacts. They will also evaluate risk factors associated with the event, such as characteristics of the venue/event (for example, location, size, presence of indoor and outdoor components, and crowd density) and expected interactions among participants during the event.
Authorities will also consider the capacity of the event organisers to apply prevention and control measures, to reduce the risks associated with the event. For some states and territories, the risk may be too high for these environments to open or hold events. Health authorities will decide whether significant modifications to the characteristics of such events (such as venue, attendees, activities and facilities) are required.
When planning for events in very high risk settings, organisers and venue managers should conduct a risk assessment, develop a risk management plan (otherwise known as a ‘COVIDSafe plan’ or ‘COVID management plan’), address all risks and put all public health measures in place. Organisers and venue managers should also plan for how they will manage if the event is cancelled or the venue closed, due to changes in the COVID-19 situation.
AHPPC encourages innovative approaches to managing identified risks, such as requiring people to declare they are well upon entry and refunding ticket costs for those who cannot attend because of illness. AHPPC also recommends scanning QR codes or driver’s licences/ID cards to collect attendee contact details. Event organisers and venue managers may have to develop a risk management plan to go through an approval process and follow a designated checklist for planning and managing risks, due to the complexity and varied nature of these settings.
For entertainment and amusement venues, Step 3 of the 3-step framework states that seated and ticketed outdoor venues can hold up to 25% capacity for venues up to 40,000 people, with larger venues limited to 10,000 people. Consideration will be given to opening larger venues, bar areas and gaming rooms. However, nightclubs and high-risk outdoor events such as unseated music festivals will remain closed.
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