The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published updated guidance on mass gatherings to encourage promoters to modify large music and sports events amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The updated document ‘Key planning recommendations for mass gathering in the context of COVID-19’ advises event organisers to host events outdoors where possible or even partially online.

The guidance – which builds on documents first issued in March – also suggests regulating the flow and density of people entering, attending and departing an event by several methods, including increasing the frequency of transport, staggering arrivals, registering attendees, numbering entries, and designating seating.

WHO, the specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, also urged event promoters to reduce capacity venues, which has already taken place across several countries that have begun holding events again.

Other advice includes ensuring widespread access to handwash/sanitiser for event goers, as well as making sure venues are regularly and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

As global COVID-19 measures begin to ease, WHO has shifted its recommendations from encouraging organisers to postpone or cancel mass gatherings in March to urging authorities to consider, where it is safe, allowing mass gatherings to take place.

The document reads: “Mass gatherings are not merely recreational events; they have important implications on the psychological well-being of large number of individuals (eg religious events), can play an important role in promoting healthy behaviours (eg. sports), provide employment for a great number of people, and could leave a legacy of improved assets or capacities developed as a result of hosting a mass gathering event.

“Since mass gatherings have substantial political, cultural, social, and economic implications, authorities should assess the importance and necessity of an event and consider the option that it may take place, provided all associated public health risks are adequately addressed and mitigated.”

WHO said attendees should be advised by organisers to observe physical distancing and it encourages people with higher risk of transmitting and contracting COVID-19 to not attend the event.

The document also calls for the surveillance of participants to detect and manage individuals developing symptoms, with isolation facilities to be made available at the event site for those who develop symptoms while at the event.

WHO concludes: “Generally, events associated with a low or very low risk of Covid-19 transmission and low strain on the health system may be considered sufficiently safe to proceed.

“Events with a moderate, high or very high level of risk might not be sufficiently safe to proceed and would require a more thorough application of prevention and control measures. If the risk of spreading Covid-19 remains significant after application of all control measures, postponing or cancelling the planned event should be considered.”

The organisation noted that authorities and organisers should see such events as an “opportunity to enhance their ways of working and pass this learning on to future event organisers and the host country.”

Earlier this week, the top tier of Hungarian football set a first for Europe by returning fans to its stadia. In addition, the top three football divisions in Poland are set to open their stadiums at 25-per-cent capacity from June 19, while fans of the Russian Premier League will be allowed into stadia on June 21.

Image: Moses