Running COVID-safe Live Events with Lessons from Australia

Often you don’t miss something until it is gone, and this could be said about live conferences and concerts, events and festivals, networking and theatre.

Around the world, countries, cities and regions have dealt with the impact of COVID-19 in different ways and where there are short or long term shutdowns, then some industry sectors, like music and events have been impacted massively.

Talking with colleagues, family and friends in the UK and USA especially, there is an increasing level of interest in how Australia, and states like South Australia have opened up to live face to face events.  And this blog outlines experiences in running live business events as an event producer (business networking, tours and workshops with hundreds of people), as well as being involved in festivals and shows as a patron, with links to resources and tools that you might find helpful if you are wanting to produce COVID-safe live events and festivals.

COVID-19 in South Australia

This information is very much point in time and from the perspective of the capital city of Adelaide in South Australia (if you are outside of Australia think the middle section of the country and then go South to the coast).  In South Australia, there are 0 new cases and 3 active cases where people are returned travelers from overseas and they are in managed hotel quarantine – see the dashboard.

Coming out of lockdown

So, from current day let’s go back a few months to last year, when we were coming out of the first lockdown and considering running face to face events.  Numbers were still very much restricted, no dancing or eating and drinking whilst standing.  There are a couple of observations that may or may not occur where you are based.

Firstly, perception is everything, questions like is this venue/place safe, how will guests be managed, spaced out and physically distanced, what COVID-safe practices are in place, alongside contact tracing capability where that might be needed.  At first for many it was tentative steps, and it was like everyone needed to get match fit again.  Awkwardness about (not) shaking hands and/or elbow bumping, needing to redevelop conversational skills and new topics to talk about (not just all COVID related), and even reactions like clapping from the audience was subdued.  When going to see bands and live music, dancing in your chair is hard – often dancing amps up the energy of the gig and without it then performers had to work extra hard.

Getting leaders together

Hosting a VIP dinner for 50 people in August, limits on numbers were very much front of mind, and if you usually run large events, taking a small group of VIPs or industry leaders, and brining them together to reignite your local economy or industry can really make a difference.  At this event, the South Australian Government didn’t yet have the QR code scanning app in place for scanning in so it was paper forms to capture contact details using sanitised pens and with COVID Marshals in place.

COVID Marshals and online training

Online training as a COVID Marshal became available in August 2020, provided by the state government, where A COVID Marshal is required for the following prescribed operations:

  • The onsite purchase and consumption of food or beverages (indoors or outdoors).
  • Religious or faith-based ceremonies (other than wedding ceremonies or funeral services).
  • Supermarkets and hardware stores.
  • Gatherings of 51-200 people at residential premises.
  • Distribution centres (including associated transport operations).
  • Gymnasiums and fitness centres.
  • Swimming pools used by the public.
  • Sporting clubs.
  • Any activity where a COVID Management Plan is required.
  • Any operation which may be defined by the state coordinator.

Many businesses and organisations are required to create a COVID-safe plan based upon activities and gatherings (and max numbers) including private functions (incl weddings and funerals), residential premises and parties.

Government of South Australia requirements

According to the Government of South Australia website,

Some high-risk public activities require a COVID Management Plan, approved by SA Health.

COVID Marshals are required across a number of industry sectors to ensure venue capacity, physical distancing and infection control requirements are met.

The density requirement of 1 person per 2 square metres applies for all defined public activities.

The maximum number of attendees at a place of business will be determined by its size.

These requirements apply only to patrons, not staff.

Contact tracing

COVID-SAfe Check-In is a new feature that has been added to the free mySA GOV app. If someone in South Australia tests positive to COVID-19, the COVID-SAfe Check in enables SA Health to quickly contact others who may have been exposed to the virus and stop the spread of COVID-19.

From 14 December, any defined public activity which requires a COVID Safe Plan and general retail premises must use an approved contact tracing system which includes the COVID-SAfe Check in, Scan Tek or any other electronic platform which is approved by the state coordinator.

Those who have a COVID Safe Plan will be issued with a QR code which will be attached to the approved plan and must be displayed in the premises/business/venue.

A person who participates in a defined public activity or who enters a venue must upload their relevant contact details. If the system is not working or the person is unable to upload their details they must provide their details to the venue operator and these details must be retained.

Contact tracing records must be presented at the request of an authorised officer and may not be used retained for any other purpose.

Advice on Activities and Gatherings

The total number of people at a place must not exceed 1 person per 2 square metres.

Physical distancing, or social distancing principles apply. Every person should attempt to stay at least 1.5 metres from other members of the public. However, this does not apply to people who live together, who are friends or family members, or people who regularly associate with each other.

Wearing a face mask is not mandatory, but it is recommended to wear a mask when out in public if you are unable to physically distance.

High-risk public activities that require a COVID Management Plan include:

  • gatherings and activities of more than 1,000 people
  • licensed premises under the Liquor Licensing Act 1997 where both dancing and the consumption of liquor occurs
  • the operation of a nightclub, where the principle purpose of the premise is for the consumption of liquor, the playing of loud, amplified music and dancing.

COVID Management Plans (you can download a template, guidance and FAQ information) must be approved by SA Health before you can conduct the above activities.

Events and Festivals in South Australia

Like many other places, events and festivals have been postponed and pushed out, especially due to risks and in November 2020, South Australia had a 6-day lockdown that ended in 3 days, but that is another story!

With events over the summer and into the future there are cross border travel considerations too, which is managed by SA Police, that can change frequently and at late notice depending on any emerging hot spots around the country.

Summer Sounds Festival

In January 2021, the Summer Sounds Festival was the first COVID-safe music festival since the pandemic and as a patron it was great to get back to live music with local and interstate performers.  Things that you noticed included:

  • you and your group (2-6 people) had to arrive and check in (QR codes and go through security) at the same time that was emailed to you from the event organisers (seems to be in 10-15 minute blocks)
  • wrist bands had your ‘pod’ number on them and were colour coded – toilet blocks were coloured too, so you were only able to use specific facilities
  • food trucks were out in the open so you could go over and order food in physically distanced lines
  • in your pod there were chairs, 3-sided fencing and a tub for ice and drinks – you could dance but you needed to stay inside your pod
  • drinks were ordered via an app, where you tapped you phone to the sign in your pod (RFID tech) and then drinks arrived in golf buggies driven by event staff.   Driving golf buggies could be a new skill to consider for more team members as we saw a few close calls 😉
  • security staff walked up and down the rows (all pods were numbered and colour coded) to ensure guests did the right thing, and for the most part they did with only a few exceptions
  • the Chief Health Officer for South Australia, Professor Nicola Spurrier attended one of the nights early in the month-long festival and went up in a cherry picker to oversee what was happening

If you are a festival organiser you might like to check out info about how the Summer Sounds crew ran the event, the venue map, and FAQs for guests.  There was also merchandise for sale and overall, it was a fun experience with friends, where you remembered how much you missed that concert experience.

Adelaide Fringe

Opening on 19 February 2021 and running to 21 March 2021, this multi-site/venue event has many artists and event goers flying in from around the world prior to the pandemic.

“2020 Adelaide Fringe featured more than 6725 artists, 1209 events across 474 venue spaces… ticket sales of 853,419.”

You can read more about the Adelaide Fringe here, operating within COVID-19 regulations, travel restrictions and/or crowd limits.

Differences with a COVID-safe Fringe included the QR code checkin, dividing up of large spaces across the Adelaide parklands, for example Gluttony, with more gates and specific venues, checking into the venue too and social distancing in the venue i.e., one chair space between you and other guests (even if they are your husband!).

A very practical consideration for patrons is needing to provide more time to get into the event, into the venue and in lines for food, drinks and toilets.

Final considerations

One unexpected benefit from COVID-safe practices at all events and festivals, pubs and clubs, functions and venues, has been generally much tidier and cleaner bathrooms 😊.

Costs for events have generally increased, especially if you are offering individual catering, and you need more time even for smaller networking events for registration and checkins.

For larger events, the logistics, especially if people are coming in from interstate include travel to and from the airport, being in a bubble at suitable accommodation, mask wearing backstage, needing people to stay in their accommodation and not mix with the general community, cleaning regimes and budgets as some industry leaders have suggested events over a longer period of time, like a month not just a night, means that you can run a profitable event with lower pax than pre-COVID.

Artists and event guests have expressed their happiness and almost relief at being about to perform again and to support live events, festivals and music.  But probably the overwhelming takeaway is needing to risk management with backup plans from A-Z.

If you’d like to reach out on this topic or other opportunities, then please get in touch via and I hope you found this blog useful.

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