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Rail strikes spell Glastonbury travel trouble – and small events fear ‘catastophe’

A national strike across Britain’s railways will have a catastrophic effect on the live music and events industry if it goes ahead later this summer, trade bodies have warned.

More than 50,000 workers at Network Rail and 13 train companies, represented by the RMT union, are set to walk out on 21 June in a dispute over job cuts and pay freezes, with further strikes planned for 23 June and 25 June.

About 10,000 London Underground workers are also set to strike on 21 June in a separate dispute over pensions and job losses. The strikes are expected to cause severe disruption and come at the height of festival season, with Glastonbury taking place in Somerset from 22 June for the first time since the pandemic.

GWR, the train company serving Castle Cary, the station closest to Glastonbury, has said it hopes to maintain timetabled trains from London Paddington throughout the festival. But it said other parts of its network were likely to be “more affected” by the strike action and that customers “may need to consider alternative ways to travel to a station serving Castle Cary”.

National Express, which is providing coaches from 70 locations, said it had seen a “significant increase” in bookings for travel on the dates of the planned rail strikes and was “working hard to increase availability where possible”.

Other events, including a concert series with artists including Elton John at Hyde Park and the UK Athletics Championships in Manchester, are also scheduled for that week.

Michael Kill, from the Night Time Industries Association, which represents nightclubs, event venues and festival organisers said the proposed industrial action could have a “catastrophic” impact on the sector, which he said was “very fragile” following the pandemic and amid the cost of living crisis. “It just seems like at every corner there’s another barrier,” he said.

RMT members protest outside St Pancras station during a Tube strike in London on 6 June 2022.
RMT members protest outside St Pancras station during a Tube strike in London on 6 June 2022. Photograph: Vuk Valcic/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Jon Collins, chief executive of Live, an umbrella body for trade associations in the live music and entertainment business, said the action could be devastating for event operators already struggling to recover from the pandemic, with smaller businesses likely to be hardest hit.

“While our members are understanding of the RMT’s concerns, there’s a frustration that this has come at a time when we’re trying to rebuild the live music industry after almost two years of closure,” he said.

“It’s not just the Glastonburys of this world. It’s the smaller festivals and gigs, where people have paid £8 or £15 for a ticket, where customers may think, ‘I’m going to have to not go.’ That means the event may go ahead but you may not make the profit you were hoping for, which could be business-critical in this year of all years.”

Announcing the strike on 7 June, the RMT said railway workers had been treated “appallingly” and that despite its “best efforts” in negotiations, “the rail industry, with the support of the government, has failed to take their concerns seriously”.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “Rail companies are making at least £500m a year in profits, while fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid-19 pandemic. This unfairness is fuelling our members’ anger and their determination to win a fair settlement.

“RMT is open to meaningful negotiations with rail bosses and ministers, but they will need to come up with new proposals to prevent months of disruption on our railways.”

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COVID risks higher from small indoor events than large outdoor ones: research

COVID risks higher from small indoor events than large outdoor ones: research

Outdoor events are safer than indoor events in regards to potential COVID-19 transmission, according to a newly released comparative study of two hypothetical events in Austin, Texas.

A study from the University of Texas and the city of Austin considered the COVID-19 transmission risks at two events: a business conference with 3,000 attendees during a pandemic surge and an outdoor festival with 50,000 attendees in a low transmission period.

Despite the attendance at the hypothetical outdoor festival being more than 10 times higher than at the indoor business conference, the study’s authors estimated that the festival would result in the infection of only twice as many people in the community during and after the event.

To calculate the COVID-19 risks from the two events, they considered multiple factors: the structure of the event, including its size, duration, density and venue; the state of the pandemic, including the local prevalence of the virus and the epidemiological properties of current variants; any risk-reduction measures introduced by event organizers; and local demographics.

Using that information, the study’s authors said they first estimated the number of attendees who would arrive infected at the hypothetical events. To do this, they said they used the COVID-19 school risk dashboard to estimate the incidence rates of COVID-19 in every U.S. county and assumed that an attendee arriving infected correlated directly to the incidence rate of infection in their home county.

They said they then estimated the number of attendees who would be infected at the event and finally the total number of infections in Austin that would stem from the event over a four-week period.

The study’s authors said that the risks of transmission from an event can be significantly reduced by requiring proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test just prior to the event and/or the wearing of face masks during the event.

The results of the study also showed that limiting the number of attendees, physically spacing out activities and selecting outdoor and well-ventilated sites can significantly mitigate risks, the authors said.

However, the authors cautioned that they made “a number of critical assumptions that may not hold for all events, especially as SARS-CoV-2 and our arsenal of medical countermeasures continues to evolve.”