How the use of rapid antigen testing fortified the Australian entertainment industry at the peak of COVID

The nature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus makes it a significant challenge for the Australian entertainment industry. An interruption of filming due to COVID-19 infection and consequent quarantining of an entire crew can cost production companies hundreds of thousands of dollars, says Dr Bill Anseline.

Dr Anseline is the Director and Chief Medical Officer of Hemisphere Management Group, a medical, security and risk management company specialising in managing occupational health risks such as COVID-19 for large-scale productions including TV shows, live concerts, festivals, and sporting events. This specialism is known as Event Medicine (EVM) and during the pandemic, this has included private quarantine arrangements and on-site COVID-19 testing.

Hemisphere Management Group’s client list consists of many famous names such as Elton John, Queen, Michael Bublé, Harry Styles, Dannii Minogue, Crowded House, Midnight Oil, The Kid Laroi, Jack Johnson, Tim Tszyu, Opera Australia and shows such as I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and Survivor.

Dr Anseline oversaw the creation of a Medical Advisory Board for the business with the assistance of Dr Henning Liljeqvist, who is an accomplished advanced trained paramedic, epidemiologist, public health specialist and outbreak specialist.

“His involvement was a key part of our success, and this was due to his epidemiological and immense outbreak management experience,” Dr Anseline asserted.

To manage health risks associated with COVID-19 on set or while touring, Hemisphere Management Group partnered with Abbott to supply their clients with rapid antigen tests (RATs) to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading.

“We kept a lot of businesses open, a lot of people safe, and a lot of people in work. That was all due to our collaboration with Abbott,” Dr Anseline said, continuing “we have a very successful history.”  

As COVID-19 hit Australia and many industries ground to a halt, the need for fast, accurate and easily accessible tests became clear to allow businesses to operate in sectors such as entertainment, sporting and hospitality.

“We were watching the trajectory of testing in Europe and we could see people using rapid antigen testing,” said Dr Anseline.

“We were seeing a lot of tests that had poor LOD, sensitivity and specificity. Our medical advisory board looked through all the evidence on available RATs, and putting all that together, Abbott was unsurpassed by anybody.”

“They are very highly sensitive and highly specific and if the test comes up positive, you can be assured of the test’s accuracy.”

“Being an evidence-based medical company, we couldn’t afford not to be involved with the best rapid antigen test company in the world,” he concluded.

Hemisphere Management Group has been partnering with Abbott since the start of the pandemic, and their overnight adoption and adaption of rapid antigen testing significantly changed the ways in which they could protect their clients.

The use of RATs forms a core component of Dr Anseline’s COVID-19 control strategy and Covid Safe plans.

“There are a lot of big risks, and you have to mitigate those risks. That's what we do when we put together a Covid Safe plan, and a significant part of that plan is having the experienced people there to do the point of care testing with Abbott's product.”

“There's also having the Covid Safe mechanisms backstage, for example, on-site for movies, whereby people are tested regularly. This is where we are finding cases and obviously interrupting that transmission phase early.”

“By having those Covid Safe practises and the technologies along with it, that increases or decreases and mitigates that risk of exposure or the principals becoming infected, so it's been a bit of a saviour in a multitude of ways.”

Dr Anseline cited that with the current winter flu season, complacency and COVID fatigue are significant barriers to adequate testing and noted the importance of testing to distinguish between COVID-19 and influenza.

“Especially now we have the new antivirals for COVID, you need to identify the pathogen to know what you’re treating.”

Along with others in the EVM sector, Hemisphere Management Group is now also using the Abbott ID NOWTM on some filming projects and the Festival of Football currently being played in Australia (Manchester United, Leeds, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa) which enables fast and accurate detection of several different pathogens.

With the lifting of restrictions and return to normal life Dr Anseline and his team are no less committed to protecting the health of their clients and the wider community.

“Covid is not in our rear mirror so we are still hypervigilant, and what I love about working with Abbott's is that we have the ability to be agile, evidenced-based and we have a strong working relationship with them.”

“We're just like the barometer on the ground. We have the finger on the pulse, and we relay back to Abbott where the issues are or where the potentials are; helping with testing or new tests. That's what I have found enjoyable about our working relationship which helps us to protect business and sectors like the entertainment industry.”