Scientists are set to investigate the mechanisms of Covid-19 airborne transmission at the FA Cup Final, which is due to take place at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
The team will monitor indoor air quality as well as movement of air at different locations in the venue – with the aim of creating guidance on how to minimise the risk of airborne transmission of viruses at large-scale events.
The researchers said their work could help kick-start the sport and entertainment industry as restrictions continue to be lifted.
Dr Liora Malki-Epshtein, of University College London’s Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering, said: “The first phase of the work will be one piece of the puzzle informing government policy on the feasibility and possibility of reopening events safely in the summer and beyond.
“We cannot control human behaviour at events but we can help to ensure that the environment the participants are in is as safe as possible.”
Around 22,000 people are due to attend the match between Chelsea and Leicester at Wembley as part of the Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP).
ERP is running pilots to examine the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from attendance at events and explore ways to enable people to attend them safely.
The researchers are also examining data from Tuesday’s Brit Awards ceremony at London’s O2 Arena, which was attended by 4,500 people.
In addition to looking at ventilation, they are also carrying out a microbiological analysis of surfaces and air around the venue.
Dr Malki-Epshtein said: “The scale of the planning and logistics that go into such events behind the scenes is truly impressive, and Covid safety is one more issue that event managers need to take into account in addition to those already incorporated in planning.”
It comes as experts from around the world are calling for a “paradigm shift” in indoor ventilation to combat future virus spread.
Writing in the journal Science, the researchers said that, just like regulations on the safety of sanitation, drinking water and food, the Government also needs to focus on pathogens in the air as evidence continues to grow that coronavirus can be transmitted through aerosols in crowded indoor spaces.
Dr Julian Tang, a clinical virologist of respiratory sciences from Leicester University and one of the authors on the paper, said that “ventilation certificates” for public places could enable employees to “more confidently” return to offices as well as help restaurants gain their diners’ trust.
He said: “We all want to be confident that the air in our homes and the buildings and restaurants we visit is clean, just as we are assured that the water coming out of our taps is safe for us to drink.”