'Covid spreading on steroids': Health expert fearful over world darts

‘Covid-spreading on steroids’: Booze-fuelled crowd of 3,000 per session at the World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace, with ‘no concept of social distancing’ and mask rules ignored, should NOT be allowed, says public health expert

  • The World Darts Championship has started at Alexandra Palace this week 
  • 80,000 fans will pack Ally Pally for a fortnight’s festival of darts and fancy dress 
  • Supporters must show a Covid pass and wear masks at the London venue
  • Public health experts are concerned at the risk of spreading the Omicron variant
  • Professor Keith Neal, an expert at the University of Nottingham, has described the event as ‘Covid spreading on steroids’ and said fans should not be allowed
  • Organisers PDC have said they run a safe event in line with Government rules 

The World Darts Championship, where 80,000 raucous fans are packing Alexandra Palace throughout the next fortnight, has been labelled ‘Covid spreading on steroids’ by public health experts.

The fancy-dress fiesta burst into life in north London yesterday with a capacity crowd of 3,000 for the first session, with patrons in fine voice.

Similar numbers are due to attend all 28 sessions until January 3. 

But Professor Keith Neal, an expert in public health at the University of Nottingham, has said the event is too risky with the Omicron variant spreading so rapidly across the country, particularly in London, and should never have been given the go ahead with fans present.

‘I would tell the local authorities do not let it happen with a crowd,’ said Prof Neal. ‘It is ridiculous. People will be travelling on public transport.

‘It is Covid spreading on steroids. There is no concept of social distancing and they will not be wearing masks because they are drinking.’

Fans in fancy dress during day one of the World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace

Public health experts have expressed concern about the potential spread of the Omicron Covid variant among darts fans at the championship during its fortnight at Ally Pally

Organisers PDC say all fans must show a Covid pass to enter the London venue

Any anxiety over Omicron was put to one side by fans at the London venue yesterday, with many dressed up as Scooby Doo, Robin Hood, Father Christmas and more, and quickly revelling in the party spirit.

The annual knees up, famous for its feel-good atmosphere, is allowed to go ahead with fans under the Government’s Plan B measures.

Darts fans must produce an NHS Covid Pass upon entry. That includes proof of full vaccination or a negative lateral flow test taken on the day of the event.

Ticket holders need to demonstrate their Covid status by providing one of the following:

• Proof of full vaccination

• Proof of natural immunity based upon a positive PCR test within 180 days of the event and following completion of the required self-isolation period

• Proof of a negative NHS Lateral Flow Test taken on the day of the event 

The rules, which only came into force on Wednesday morning, following a rancorous vote in Parliament on Tuesday night, do not apply to anyone under the age of 18.

They have been drawn up in response to a ‘tidal wave’ of infection caused by the Omicron variant.

The organisers, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), have warned fans that those unable to demonstrate their current Covid status will be turned away.

But Prof Neal said the Covid passes would form a poor defence against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of Covid.

‘You need at least three doses of vaccine for an effective Covid pass with Omicron,’ he said.

PDC chairman Eddie Hearn has insisted the show is safe and will go on, even if the Government tightens restrictions and fans are banned.

‘We are all used to it now as a business,’ Hearn, who took over from father Barry as head of the events organisation last April, told the Sun.

‘We will always adhere to the government rules. We will make sure it’s a safe, friendly environment for our customers and we will adapt if needed to under any rule change.

Individuals attending are asked to wear masks, except when eating or drinking

One spectator was dressed as Scooby Doo as he and others got in the spirit of fancy dress

PDC chairman Eddie Hearn is in charge of the Darts World Championship this fortnight

‘If we have to adapt in the circumstances – whether that is distancing, implementing masks in the venue or reducing the crowds – we have the expertise to do all of that.

‘It would be a real shame because we missed it last year and it is back in full this year. Fancy dress is on the agenda.’

Fans will still have to wear face coverings around the venue and when seated, with punters only permitted to take them off while eating or drinking.

Those in attendance on Wednesday witnessed defending champion Gerwyn Price survive a scare to come from behind and beat Ritchie Edhouse 3-1 to move into the third round.

The Welshman had won the title with victory over Gary Anderson in the 2021 final, which was played behind closed doors in January.

Face coverings will help reduce the risk of spread among darts fans, said Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia.

But he admitted his public health colleague Prof Neal is ‘probably right’ in his assessment of the Covid risk at the Championships.

‘It has the potential to be a super-spreader event,’ said Prof Hunter. ‘Within London at the moment, that is where Omicron is rapidly taking off.’

The scenes at Ally Pally in north London are in sharp contrast to the rest of the capital, where people are heeding the Government’s advice and working from home, while avoiding social gatherings. 

Roads in London were the quietest they have been during the morning rush-hour on any term-time weekday since the summer today.

The congestion level reported by TomTom in the capital between 8am and 9am today was 49 per cent – the lowest figure for that period since the end of the summer holidays on September 3, excluding October half-term.

And the Chief Medical Officer issued a further warning today about the expected surge in infections, saying it was ‘entirely possible’ the number of daily hospital Covid-19 admissions in the latest wave could beat the 4,583 peak in January. A big wave would also see the NHS face huge staff shortages as doctors and nurses become ill or go into isolation.  

Few commuters used London Waterloo station this morning as rail passenger numbers continue to drop following the Omicron variant’s emergence

A very quiet Oxford Street in London’s West End today despite this time of year normally being the peak shopping season and the streets packed full of people buying presents

Westminster Bridge also looked very quiet during the morning rush hour in London today

Professor Whitty – who last night warned ‘all the things that we do know are bad’ about Omicron – told MPs today of hospitalisations: ‘I don’t want this to be seen as I’m saying this will happen. I’m just saying there’s a range of possibilities, but certainly the peak of just over 4,500 – 4,583 to be exact – people admitted at the absolute peak…

‘It is possible because this is going to be very concentrated that even if it is milder, because it’s concentrated over a short period of time, you could end up with a higher number than that going into hospital on a single day. That is entirely possible. It may be less than that. But I’m just saying that it’s certainly possible.’

He added that there were two caveats – one being that people could be staying in hospital for a shorter period because of their protection from prior vaccination, and fewer people may go into intensive care.

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