UCL News


Studying airborne Covid-19 transmission at the FA Cup Final

14 May 2021

A study to help get large-scale events back up and running will be collecting and analysing data from test events in London, including this weekend’s FA Cup Final and the BRIT Awards.

Wembley Stadium

The UCL research team, led by Dr Liora Malki-Epshtein (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering - CEGE) will analyse data from large sports and music events which are being organised with the UK Government’s Events Research Programme in London. Ensuring venues minimise any potential Covid-19 risk is essential to allow the industry to pick back up as restrictions ease.

Around 22,000 people will attend the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Leicester this Saturday 15th May at Wembley Stadium. Of those, 12,500 are club supporters, 9,500 are Brent residents, key workers, Wembley Stadium guests and FA stake holders. Over 4,500 attended Tuesday’s BRIT Awards.

The study, carried out in collaboration with the AIRBODS consortium project (Airborne Infection Reduction through Building Operation and Design for SARS CoV-2), will create clear guidance on how to design and operate non-domestic buildings to minimise the risk of airborne transmission of Covid-19 and other viruses.

The team is monitoring the indoor air quality and movement of air at different locations around the test venues to understand the impact of ventilation and how this relates to the number of people present in different spaces at an event. They are also carrying out a microbiological analysis of surfaces and air around the venue.

Dr Malki-Epshtein commented: “The scale of the planning and logistics that go into such events behind the scenes is truly impressive, and Covid safety is one more issue that event managers need to take into account in addition to those already incorporated in planning.

“Despite the understandable nervousness felt by many people about this, many more are keen to return to normality and there is a sense that the amazing sporting and musical talent the UK has to offer is a bright light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.”

The data will help the team to develop an understanding of what risks could be present and where, and support event managers when planning how to ensure events are as safe as possible. The study will also provide guidance on what ventilation measures can be taken to mitigate risk.

The team will compare the London studies with data from events already held in Liverpool and Sheffield and will generate a substantial dataset on the environment in and around events across the board, from large scale to smaller ones, both indoors and outdoors.

“The first phase of the work will be one piece of the puzzle informing government policy on the feasibility and possibility of reopening events safely in the summer and beyond,” added Dr Malki-Epshtein. “We cannot control human behaviour at events but we can help to ensure that the environment the participants are in, is as safe as possible.”

Inadequate ventilation has been highlighted as a risk factor in terms of the possible airborne transmission of Covid-19 in buildings. AIRBODS aims to quantify the risk of this transmission through a combination of experimental work, measurement of environmental factors in buildings and computer modelling.

The environmental field studies carried out will lay the foundation for work done by the UCL team and the rest of the AIRBODS consortium, led by Professor Malcolm Cook (Loughborough University). The captured data will enable the researchers to develop a Relative Exposure Index, which, although not an absolute measure of the risk of transmission, will enable event managers to gauge the risk of exposure relative to a benchmark case. The research consortium is comprised of academics from Loughborough University, the University of Cambridge, the University of Nottingham, the University of Sheffield, London South Bank University and UCL.

UCL team member Dr Lena Ciric (UCL CEGE) said: “Being involved in the Events Research Programme has given us the opportunity to collect an unprecedented amount of data at major entertainment venues using a holistic approach which includes measuring air flow, air quality, microbiology and looking at crowd movements.”

AIRBODS Principal Investigator Professor Malcolm Cook (Loughborough University) said: “The large-scale events industry has been shut down for over a year. The work we are doing will help get these types of events and venues back up and running in a safe way, providing scientifically proven information and advice on ventilation and building management, to reduce the risk of airborne transmission of Covid-19 and other viruses as much as possible.”

AIRBODS is funded by UKRI Covid-19 Research Funding.



  • Wembley Stadium. Credit: Dr Liora Malki-Epshtein


Media contact

Kate Corry

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 6995

Email: k.corry [at] ucl.ac.uk