‘Events With A Testing Strategy Should Be Able To Open’: Q’s With Prof. Frank Joseph

Professor Frank Joseph
– Professor Frank Joseph
Medical director at DAM Health.

Professor Frank Joseph is a general internal medicine consultant physician. He’s spent a significant portion of the past 15 months looking after people with coronavirus in hospital. Since March, April this year, despite the gradual easing of restrictions, he’s hardly seen any COVID presentations in hospital, which he puts down mostly to the UK’s vaccination strategy. 

The current risk, and the reason the UK’s politicians delayed lifting of all remaining restrictions on social gatherings by a month, has more to do with the potential impact of increases in cases with the newer delta-variant as well as the risk of newer coronavirus variants forming when infection rates are higher, according to Joseph.
Over the past year, he’s observed how various coronavirus tests established themselves as key to unlocking people’s social lives post lockdown, thinking there had to be a cheaper way of offering them. Thus,  Joseph launched DAM Health in December 2020, of which he is the medical director. At 35 testing centers across the UK, and some 20 more opening in the coming weeks, healthcare staff take swabs of people, send them to the lab and analyze them in a timely manner. 
This is what the Health Passport Worldwide Event Wallet looks like.
– This is what the Health Passport Worldwide Event Wallet looks like.

DAM recently linked up with Health Passport Worldwide, a company providing mobile solutions around proof of vaccinations and testing, to create the Event Wallet. The long-term goal is to integrate with ticketing systems, venues, and promoters, who could then offer their customers a way of tying their vaccination proofs or test results to concert tickets, or any ticket for that matter. Pollstar reached out to Joseph to get the lowdown.

Pollstar: Bringing back events seems to be hinged upon a few things, but testing beforehand seems to be the way to go at the moment, would you agree?
Prof. Frank Joseph: Absolutely agree. The frustrating thing for me is that we’ve done the research as part of the Events Research Programme, but we haven’t released the results and made it official yet protocol and strategy. That’s part of the downside to the situation.
The testing programs seem to work. Just recently, there was an article, which was published in The Lancet journal and based on [the Barcelona test concert]. They had one group that was tested and sent into an indoor concert event and one group that was tested and sent out on their day to day lives. And they showed that, again, testing is effective.
Yet, government moved the June 21 reopening date to July 19, meaning that people can’t go to a gig or to a concert. The plan is not allowing people, to get back to activities using strategies that are being demonstrated as being safe. All results from [pilot] events [with a tested audience] are positive. It should become the norm that people are allowed the freedom to attend with the prerequisite of stringent protocol driven testing, as opposed to just saying, ‘let’s wait till the vaccinations are done’, or ‘let’s postpone it until the next surge is under control’.
The national leadership, the pandemic management, is now talking about the potential for a bad winter ahead where flu and COVID may potentially cause issues. At what point are we going to stop being cautious and use the science to help open up? It’s been proven that events with a testing strategy should be able to open.
How optimistic are you, that the UK government is going to allow itself to be led by science rather than by its fear of giving advice that may turn out wrong in retrospect?
Whilst I have respect for the government in terms of what they’re trying to do with the messaging, they still need to go with the science if it supports a certain way of working. The people in charge of organizing big events are responsible. We’ve been working with event management companies using the health passport that we are linked up with. It’s what we call the Event Wallet. It’s a downloadable app that links in your testing data to an electronic ticket for your next festival or concert.
It allows you to get things off the ground and offer a lifeline not just for people in the industry. I have patients who are in their teens all the way up to 85. They all want to just get back to doing the things that they used to do, especially the ones who’ve had two vaccines. And there’s the ones that haven’t had the vaccine but have had COVID and recovered. It’s about giving those people the opportunity on a scientific basis to get back to doing the things that they used to enjoy. 

DAM Health operates testing centers across the UK.
– DAM Health operates testing centers across the UK.
The company could also set up shop on site at a festival, if required.

Governments of various countries offer their own apps for proof of being vaccinated or tested. How does your solution differ?

Our health passport is your key to your vaccination status, your testing status, and any electronic tickets that require approval before travel or before entry into a venue. The reach of Health Passport Worldwide is international. The UK has got the NHS app, which tracks the vaccine status, but it doesn’t do a lot for testing status. We need something that amalgamates vaccine status, testing and venue tickets – it’s about bringing it all together, so that it’s all in one place.
Let’s talk about the practicalities for high-capacity event. Some of them welcome around 100,000 visitors across a weekend. How would you handle testing? 
To some extent, this is all about planning. If you know the number of tickets that you’re going to be sending out, we kind of know, from people’s habits, what number will turn up at the gate for testing. We’ll offer them testing opportunities beforehand, our model allows us to do that. We have walk-in clinics across the UK, where you can book your appointment. 
The truth of the matter is, most people nowadays are quite in tune with the fact that they’d rather not just turn up on site, at least that’s my reflection of what we’re seeing around the UK. People, who enjoy going out, are also savvy about the fact that they’d rather not stand around in a queue. And if they can walk in somewhere the day before and get it done, and then sail through entrance into the venue, they would probably prefer to do that. It’s just something that people have gotten accustomed to. 
From a logistics point of view, we know how long it takes us to get someone in and out for a test. We can work out the number of stations we need. We have manpower that we can flex up and down as we need to from location to location. If we had to go all out for, say, Glastonbury, we would potentially reduce the number of slots we have in our other locations in other cities and set up stands on site.

A concert-goers shows a negative Covid-19 result on their phone as well as their driving license as they arrive at the venue, a big top in Sefton Park, Liverpool.
PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images
– A concert-goers shows a negative Covid-19 result on their phone as well as their driving license as they arrive at the venue, a big top in Sefton Park, Liverpool.
The event, promoted by Festival Republic, welcomed 5,000 guests and a lineup led by Blossoms.

I’m assuming most events will require a PCR test. How cheap can you make it, and is the plan for promoters to include a test in the ticket, or to have the audience take care of getting a test independently of purchasing the ticket? 

PCR testing isn’t what people are talking about for large scale events, logistically it is not going to happen. For large scale events it is all about lateral flow testing. For an indoor event where it’s going to get cramped, maybe the organizers will want and warrant a PCR test, but for larger scale events, especially outdoor gigs, lateral flow is the only way, really, to cope with those numbers. 
The costs are to some extent based on volume. People are talking around the realms of £15 to £25 for a lateral flow test. Our aim is to try and work out a way to reduce the cost. If it’s done at scale, it becomes easier to do. Which portion of the costs is borne by the organizer, and which by the people attending, is dictated by the promoters. All we can do is provide tests and efficiency of service at an affordable price.
What about multi-day events? Some festivals can last anything between one weekend, an entire week, even up to 10 days. Tests results are only valid a limited amount of time. What’s your solution?
The consensus is that you probably need your lateral flow repeated after 48 to 72 hours, but the jury’s still out [on how long the test remains valid]. At that point, you need another test. If we did have a 10-day event, testing would happen on site. Most of our labs now work 24-7, we haven’t changed our clinics to being 24-7, because the public doesn’t really need that at the moment. But our lab must run through the night to keep on top of the numbers of swabs, so we are a 24-7 company. It wouldn’t be beyond our scope to be on site at a festival 24-7 if it’s that kind of event.
You’re probably looking for promoters and event organizers to partner with.
Absolutely. A good example of forward-thinking collaboration is our agreement with Glasgow Rangers soccer club. We’re their official testing partners. What that means is that we are supporting them with testing for players as well as any staff. But also, when the Scottish government give the green light to go full capacity again, we are ready. The parking lot in front of Ibrox Stadium will be converted into a testing station, where fans can come in, have that test and enter the venue. The moment they’re allowed again, everybody will want to get on with it, and we’re prepared for that. Out role is being ready to, excuse the pun, to rock and roll the moment music starts playing again.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I just want people, including my kids, to be able to get out there and enjoy doing the things they want to do. If testing regularly means that they can do it sooner and safer then that is the way, we want to go. It is great that the government are now talking about daily testing strategies for schools in the UK to stop so many children isolating as it is so disruptive. Again testing is at the heart of allowing things to function and looking forward to seeing the progress on this.