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UK Games Expo 2021 revises COVID-19 guidelines to make tests, vaccination and masks mandatory

Estimates 50% of regular attendance at return of board game convention later this month.

UK Games Expo has revised its attendance guidelines surrounding COVID-19 to make face masks and proof of a negative test or full vaccination mandatory for visitors, following recent backlash to the event’s decision to drop all health and safety requirements.

Last week, the Birmingham event’s organisers announced they would drop all requirements not legally mandated by Public Health England, including the need to wear face masks or present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry.

UK Games Expo 2021 will take place from July 30th to August 1st in Birmingham’s NEC, its first in-person event since 2019 after last year saw the introduction of online event Virtually Expo in its place.

“UKGE will not enforce any requirements that are not legally required as we do not believe that will be practical on the day,” the July 6th update to the show’s guidelines stated.

UK Games Expo 2019
Image credit: UK Games Expo via Facebook

The guidelines requested that visitors take a lateral flow test before attending the event taking place later this month, but revealed there would be no official requirement to prove a negative result before entering.

“We have no way of checking this test but please perform the test for your own peace of mind and to safeguard everyone,” the section read.

The decision saw widespread criticism across social media, with some commenters comparing the British show’s lax guidelines to those announced shortly afterwards by US show Gen Con - which will require masks for unvaccinated visitors, although those with vaccinated can choose whether to fear a face covering - and German board game fair Essen Spiel, which will require proof of immunisation or a negative test result for entry, as well as mandatory mask-wearing throughout. A number of exhibitors subsequently announced they would not be attending this year’s UK Games Expo as a result of the move.

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Seemingly in response to the backlash, the UK Games Expo website has updated its COVID-19 guidelines to state that all visitors aged over 12 will now have to provide proof of a negative lateral flow test conducted at home or full vaccination on the first day of attending the event.

“This can be demonstrated using the NHS app or by bringing a print off of the test, which we advise you to do in the event of a bad phone signal,” the guidelines read. “Alternatively we would accept evidence of full vaccination as shown on the NHS app or a print off.”

In addition, the July 12th update now states that face masks must be worn inside by all visitors, except those exempt for medical reasons. It was not specified how the mandatory mask-wearing would be enforced.

“Please do not attend if you have symptoms of Covid and if you develop these during the event please leave immediately and seek medical advice,” the guidelines add.

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The guidelines point out other steps being taken by the show to provide social distancing, including wider aisles than previous years, increased ticketing space and additional room around open gaming and tournament tables. It has not been confirmed whether demo tables in exhibitors’ booths will similarly feature distanced seating. The NEC is said to have “hospital level” ventilation, with hand sanitisers installed in the venue’s halls.

While UK Games Expo has not confirmed it will explicitly cap attendance to a set number, the organisers said that they were “monitoring attendance carefully”. Attendance for 2021 is projected to be half that of previous years, with UK Games Expo 2019 seeing almost 26,000 visitors.

The UK government will relax the majority of coronavirus safety restrictions from July 19th despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, slowing vaccinations and the increasing risk posed by new variants; thousands of daily hospital admissions and up to 200 deaths a day are expected over the summer, The Guardian reports.

The new government guidelines remove hard restrictions on event capacity and mandatory mask-wearing, despite “recommending and expecting” that masks continue to be worn in crowded and “high risk” places. Events and venues are also “encouraged” to use the NHS COVID Pass to track the status of attendees’ test and vaccination status, although the app’s use will not be not legally required.

To date, over 128,000 people have died in the UK as the result of COVID-19, with nearly five million people testing positive for the virus.

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About the Author
Matt Jarvis avatar

Matt Jarvis


After starting his career writing about music, films and video games for various places, Matt spent many years as a technology, PC and video game journalist before writing about tabletop games as the editor of Tabletop Gaming magazine. He joined Dicebreaker as editor-in-chief in 2019, and has been trying to convince the rest of the team to play Diplomacy since.