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Could football fans in pubs watching Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Cup Final risk spread of Covid-19?

Pubs are gearing up to welcome football fans to watch tomorrow's FA Cup Final in a Covid-secure environment.

Arsenal and Chelsea will compete for the famous trophy at Wembley at 5.30pm, with some concerns raised about how government guidelines for live sport in Maidstone bars will be interpreted.

Drinkers are expected to gather to watch the FA Cup Final in pub tomorrow evening
Drinkers are expected to gather to watch the FA Cup Final in pub tomorrow evening

Although venues will have put safety measures in place since emerging from lockdown earlier this month, there are fears typical matchday excitement - fuelled by drink - could increase the risk of spreading Covid-19.

The game comes just as the crucial coronavirus infection rate in Kent has crept above one for the first time since lockdown was eased - and Boris Johnson announced he is putting the brakes on any further easing of the lockdown.

One of a number of Maidstone venues planning to show the big match, The Ashes sports bar in Market Buildings, has plans in place to make sure the evening passes off smoothly.

Bar manager Kay Ince says the venue is fully booked for the game, with guests from earlier in the day having to leave prior to the football crowds arriving, to ensure no one stays on for an all-day session.

"Our tables are all two metres apart and we have a one-way system in place," she said.

Staff and drinkers at The Ashes, Maidstone, succumb to World Cup fever - in the days long before social distancing
Staff and drinkers at The Ashes, Maidstone, succumb to World Cup fever - in the days long before social distancing

"The rules say the volume has to be down low so people don't have to make their voice louder. You can't really hear the commentary, but that is how it has to be at the moment.

"If people misbehave then we do have to eject them. The last thing we want is lockdown to happen again."

Government advice to bars and restaurants, which was updated last week, says all venues should take steps to avoid people needing to raise their voices because of the potential for increased risk of transmission.

The 47-page document acknowledges that for many pubs and bars live sports broadcasts are an important part of their business, but it goes on to says that entertainment, such as broadcasts, that are likely to encourage "group singing or chanting" should be prevented.

Aerosol transmission, where very small droplets containing the virus become suspended in the air, has been flagged as a cause for concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"They're not talking about Emmerdale, are they? They are talking about football."

It says there have been reported outbreaks of Covid-19 in some closed settings where people may be shouting, talking, or singing.

"In these outbreaks, aerosol transmission, particularly in these indoor locations where there are crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces where infected persons spend long periods of time with others, cannot be ruled out," the WHO says on its website.

Customers at a pub in Stone, Staffordshire, have been urged to get tested for the virus after 10 cases linked to the venue were confirmed.

David Savory, whose The Style & Winch pub in Union Street does not show live sport, expressed his concerns over the guidelines, which be believes are simply too open to interpretation.

"It says you should not show any broadcast that may encourage groups singing, chanting or raising their voice," he said. "They're not talking about Emmerdale, are they? They are talking about football.

David Savory, landlord at the Style & Winch pub in Maidstone. Picture: John Westhrop
David Savory, landlord at the Style & Winch pub in Maidstone. Picture: John Westhrop

"I have told people to keep their voice down in the pub, or go. There's evidence that if you shout and scream the droplets will go further.

"I think it's down to interpretation, if it's down to that then it's difficult to enforce."

Asked about its plans ahead of the final, Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (TMBC) said it was not taking any action specific to the occasion, but venues have been reminded of the rules.

A TMBC spokesman said: "The Government guidance on the showing live sport is clear and we have flagged it with local licencees.

"We have also stressed to them that this is their responsibility to ensure the rules are followed for the safety of their customers and staff.

"We are working closely with the police to monitor the how pubs are responding and so far the vast majority are taking appropriate measures. However, should problems be brought to our attention or reported to the police we won't hesitate to take action."

Maidstone Borough Council has been approached for comment.

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