LONDON: Several thousand music fans on Friday became the first people in Britain in more than a year to legally dance, drink and listen to music in a nightclub, as part of a test to see whether social distancing measures can be eased without triggering new coronavirus outbreaks.
The afternoon-admission gig at a warehouse in Liverpool, northwest England, is one of a series of pilot events sponsored by the U.K. government and closely monitored by public health officials. The 3,000 attendees, all local residents, were to be tested before and after the event, while researchers will study air quality and movement in the venue.
Once inside, clubbers could dance to DJs including Lewis Boardman and Jayda G. with no restrictions on mixing with others.
"Today is going to be monumental," said DJ Yousef, co-founder of Liverpool's Circus nightclub, which organized the event.
"Once you go over the threshold, the whole point of today is to go back to pre-Covid conditions, which of course is no social distancing, no masks. You can interact with people you don't know," he told the BBC. He said the reaction of ticket-buyers to that news had been "disbelief" as well as excitement.
"We are very excited," Leah Lawless, 18, said as she waited with her friends to get in to the warehouse. She said the past year had been "hard. It's been boring, a bit sad, depressing and not the best."
A second clubbing event will be held in the same venue on Saturday, and 5,000 fans will attend a concert headlined by the band Blossoms at Liverpool's Sefton Park on Sunday. The test events will culminate at Wembley Stadium on May 15, where a one-quarter capacity crowd of 21,000 will watch the FA Cup soccer final.
Britain has recorded more than 127,000 coronavirus deaths, Europe's highest toll. But a fast-moving vaccination campaign has given almost two-thirds of adults at least one shot, and the government is gradually lifting the restrictions on social and economic life that were in place over much of the last 14 months.
Most shops and services are open, but indoor drinking, dining and entertainment will not resume before May 17 at the earliest. Some social distancing rules will be in place until at least June 21.
Experiences elsewhere in Europe are encouraging. Organizers of a Barcelona concert last month attended by 4,500 mask-wearing fans who had been screened for the virus say the event produced no significant outbreaks.