Push to introduce Covid rapid testing to save major events

Victoria has seen a raft of big-ticket events cancelled again for a second year and some migrate to other states keen to poach events.

The Melbourne Grand Prix cancelled for a second year in a row, the Bells Beach surfing world tour event was poached by NSW, and the AFL grand final was played in Brisbane. That’s not to mention the comedy and film festival, a scaled down Moomba and countless other events that were casualties of the pandemic.

Visit Victoria chief Brendan McClements, who is responsible for the state’s $100 million-a-year major events budget, is confident Victoria can reclaim its crown as an events powerhouse. But the question remains just how that can happen given the events that are unfolding now with Melbourne just coming out of its fifth lockdown in 18 months.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews pledged that the Melbourne Grand Prix would be the last major event to be cancelled in Victoria. His optimism is based on a massive uptake in vaccinations. But is it misplaced?

Former premier Jeff Kennett thinks Victoria is in real danger of losing its place in the global events hierarchy unless a new approach is taken.

“Covid-19 will be with us for years to come – get used to the idea!” he wrote in an editorial for The Herald Sun.

“Locking down society as we have witnessed is not the answer. Society simply cannot survive under the constant threat of the next lockdown.”

Kennett thinks governments need to be more flexible in their approach to events, and cites Wimbledon as an example of how to mitigate risk while still having “full stands of spectators”.

Wimbledon used a combination of vaccine passport type protocols, rapid antigen testing and QR codes to facilitate a safer event.

The Melbourne Grand Prix has been cancelled two years in a row.

“We could employ rapid antigen testing here in Victoria,” he stated. “For gatherings at sports events, arts performances and even for the simple task of shopping.

“We don’t have to lose our sporting events to cancellations, lockdowns or movement interstate.

“There is a solution available now, being used here and internationally. Why won’t the government allow its use in Victoria?”

Arts, music and events figures are also backing vaccine passports as a pathway to recovery for their sectors.

“We need to work with government and start trialling these and other initiatives here in order for the industry to get back on its feet,” Live Nation Asia-Pacific president Roger Field told The Herald Sun.

Chugg Entertainment’s Michael Chugg said vaccine passports “need to happen”.

“Unless everyone comes together on this, we’re just going to keep dealing with this crap,” he told The Herald Sun.

Andrews has hinted that there are discussions behind closed doors over giving double jabbed people more freedoms including access to major events.

“Once we’ve got many, many more people with the jab, we can then have a discussion about what that might mean for them, freedom of movement, changes that deal with some of the risks we face,” he said.

A Herald Sun poll last month showed 70 per cent of Victorians supported fully vaccinated people being exempt from some or all restrictions.

The UK is already investing heavily in rapid tests but it is not without controversy. The tests are much less accurate than PCR tests and have been shown to to produce false negatives or false positives, but that hasn’t stopped the UK from spending billions on them to date and committing many billions more this year.

The lateral flow tests are manufactured by US firm Innova, which are easy to use and offer instant results.

The only thing is they have been banned in the US over “significant concerns that the performance of the test has not been adequately established, presenting a risk to health”.

“We can prepare to reopen major events as they have done overseas but it requires the government and health officials to be more flexible,” said Kennett.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stated that the Federal Government was handing states the power to enforce vaccination rules on venues using a digital vaccine certificate.

But any flexibility requires public support, and at the moment the only thing that appears to have any form of consensus is that Covid is going to be around for a long time yet.