Bruce Keebaugh founder of the Big Group, is part of a group in Victoria strongly advocating for Rapid Anitgen Testing, which is a simple 5 to 15 minute test that’s less invasive than PCR tests, to be adopted for major events and to tickle down for use at business events and weddings.
The federal government has announced its four phase pathway out of COVID, with targets of vaccination rates of 70% and 80% of the adult population required to transition to next stages of easing restrictions & lockdowns. With the UK and USA opening for business with vaccination rates of around just 50% of their populations, including children, (the UK had a 68% fully vaccinated adult population on the 19th July, which is when restrictions were removed) these targets may take some time to achieve.
“We are at a critical point.” Says Bruce Keebaugh. “Restrictions are the same as the lockdown for the events industry, that’s what people seem to forget. They are inhibiting and a restraint to trade”
“If we don’t get something up and running soon, there won’t be the talent to run and service these events.” He says.
Whilst rapid testing may not be the solution to the pandemic, it’s a proven risk mitigator and the idea of using it for events has got the ear of the Victorian government “We’ve had very good dialogue with government and [chief health officer] Brett Sutton has addressed rapid testing, which they’ve ignored all the way through this. We’re having a webinar with all the major sporting bodies and we think there could finally be some movement, which is a good thing for the events industry.” Says Keebaugh.
“Everyone in Victoria wants to blame New South Wales for a couple of truck guys coming over the border.” Say Keebaugh “Had we had rapid testing – 10 minutes and for ten dollars, they could have been checked at the border. A very simple solution. Our next big outbreaks down here were at AAMI stadium and the MCG. There were probably 2000 people all jammed together to get in the stadia. AAMI should have had multiple arrival times and rapid testing and a QR code system can facilitate that.”
“I don’t doubt that football is very important for mental health. But we’ve seen that 40,000 people can go to a stadium, yet in our industry it’s difficult to get 1000 people to a conference or a gala dinner. It’s been proven that testing works at a major event. The trickle-down effect is that when someone has a wedding for 200 or 300 people we can rapid test and equally, business events can use the same technology to proceed.”
“We have to start using what’s been successful globally. Say Keebaugh “The reference we use was Wimbledon. Everyone was rapid tested – you had your ticket in one hand and your test in the other, and then you were allowed into Wimbledon. It worked.”
The technology for rapid testing is developed and stocks are available in Australia, which means the roll out of kits could be executed in a timely and efficient manner. “That’s what’s frustrating.” Says Keebaugh. “There are millions of boxes sitting in warehouses all over the country that should be in pharmacies for people to buy. In England they’re sending out rapid tests to all its citizens and people are testing themselves. Things will shift and I think this is just a step out of where we’re at with COVID.”
The main obstacles for events recovery are the ambitious vaccination targets set out by federal government, and the unknown duration of the COVID emergency. “This all might go on for another 2 to 5 years” explains Keebaugh. “The vaccination has been slow. A lot of people are waiting to see what happens before they decide about having a vaccination and some people are totally against them, and that will continue. We need to have to have some tools to help us mitigate risk in our own environment – be it a hotelier or someone organising an event for 50 – to make sure guests are in as COVID free environment as possible.”
There is strong motivation for the Victorian government to consider the rapid testing proposal. “We have this bubbling of major events that we’re about to hit in Victoria – the AFL, then the racing season, the cricket and of course, the Australian Open. All of which, neither government, venues or the sporting agencies want to fail.” Says Keebaugh. “We’ve now got the Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton looking into rapid testing and if we can get this for Victoria, it will hopefully encourage other states and help the country.
“Once we roll it out in one state and it becomes acceptable, it will move a lot quicker into other states.”
Read the full interview with Bruce Keebaugh soon