Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly reiterates music festivals are “relatively high risk” for COVID

Issues pertaining specifically to music festivals are "not front of mind"

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly addressed music festivals in a press conference yesterday (August 11), reiterating that they are “relatively high risk” for COVID-19.

Kelly, a physician and epidemiologist, was responding to a journalist’s question about “the current thinking on large-scale public events, particularly around things like big music festivals in the summer”. He was also asked if the Health Department was supplying festivals and industry bodies with “any guidance or advice on planning those events”.

Kelly said that issues specific to music festivals were something the Australian health protection committee had looked at prior to the escalation of COVID cases in Victoria, however it was “not front of mind”.


“We did start looking at the particular issues in relation to music events, and when you think about it, they are relatively high risk,” he explained.

“Large numbers of people, often multi-day events, lots of close contact, dancing and singing and so forth, all of these things are higher risk than some other mass gatherings.”

The journalist also questioned Kelly on the chances of these events being able to go ahead in states like Western Australia and South Australia, who have seemingly eliminated community transmission.

“Of course they can do their own developments within those states, which have had less cases and continue to have less cases. But they’re wary,” Kelly said in response.

“They’ve seen what’s happened in Victoria, which virtually eliminated the virus just as recently as six or seven weeks ago, and how rapidly that can develop. And so it’s a cautious approach at the moment, and in terms of specific advice or planning, it’s not happening right now.”

Kelly prefaced his answer with an apology to “younger members of our community, and I would include my children in that, who find these events so attractive and such fun.”


“I did, and still do actually, like live music,” he added. Read Kelly’s answer in full and the transcript of the rest of the press conference here.

Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Queensland currently allow venues to host seated gigs with reduced capacities, whereas people in the Northern Territory, SA and WA can stand at shows.

WA has taken some of the biggest strides in resuming an active live music scene, with intrastate tours, such as the upcoming Back On The Road tour, and September’s Wave Rock Weekender festival. Perth natives Death By Denim are currently touring the state with their new single ‘Out Of Habit’ and fellow indie rock outfit Great Gable launched their debut album ‘Tracing Faces’ with a live show in Fremantle on Saturday August 8.

Kelly’s answer aligns with a May statement by the Australian Government Department of Health to NME Australia, who said that “large scale events would require the approval of the jurisdiction where they are held”, and that events where permitted would still require “significant measures to maintain social distancing and to support good hygiene”.

A growing list of festivals and tours have been cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic, but some, including Falls Festival’s Byron Bay and Lorne 2020-21 editions, are yet to throw in the towel.