Despite misgivings of some in the medical community, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK are holding mass events that sell out as soon as tickets go on sale.
It has been more than a year since governments fearing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic put millions around the world under lockdown. The restrictions perhaps allowed people to step outside for a few minutes to shop for groceries and run errands, but mass gatherings have been out of the question for months.
Not anymore. Some nations are testing the waters about loosening restrictions around nightlife events, such as Spain, the Netherlands and the UK.
In the UK, Liverpool hosted the first dance even in more than a year without Covid-19 restrictions on May 1 and 2, 2021, AFP reports.
The mass gathering trial, organised by the nightlife promoter Circus, allowed 3,000 people on each day over the two-day festival “in the first UK event of its kind in 14 months due to the pandemic”.
Tickets were fast sold out, as eager crowds awaited their chance to socialise long after they’ve been stuck at home.
The event is part of the UK’s “Events Research Programme”, along with Football Association Challenge Cup (FA Cup) matches, the BRIT Awards, and the World Snooker Championship.
According to the UK government, “There will be no requirement for participants to show proof of vaccine. Participants in the ERP pilots published to date will have to provide a basic covid certification that they have tested negative for Covid-19.”
Providing a negative test result acquired 24 hours before the event will be sufficient and the data collected from the events will, according to the article, “test the safety of large-scale gatherings before government plans to lift nearly all restrictions on June 21.”
DJ Yousef Zahar, a co-owner of the Circus nightclub in Liverpool, told the BBC that they were looking forward to going back to “pre-Covid conditions”, eventually without social distancing, masks or alcohol rules.
“It’s very exciting but of course there’s a really serious point to all this to be able to take the information and the data … [and] move forward hopefully with a view to do the 21st of June,” he said.
Liverpool’s director of public health Matt Ashton warned that while Covid-19 was “still there” and that “new variants and international travel are still a real cause for concern, staying in lockdown is not an option” and events were “an important part of the wellbeing, social fabric and economies of communities, particularly in Liverpool”.
Britain is one of the countries that has fared the worst in Europe, yet with months of lockdown and a successful vaccination campaign is now going forward with unlocking its economy.
“This hasn’t been an easy process, and it’s particularly hard as the nighttime sector hasn’t been open for over a year,” said director of Culture Liverpool, Claire McColgan.
“But anyone who attends will not only be helping to get clubs up and running in Liverpool, they will be pioneers for the whole country,” she added.
Meanwhile in Spain, on March 27, 2021 Saturday, a concert that welcomed around 5,000 people took place in Barcelona.
Concertgoers were tested on the day of the show and temperature checks were carried out at the entrance to the Sant Jordi Arena.
The concert, featuring the band Love of Lesbian, was a research project testing whether “holding Covid-secure mass events following rapid-testing of guests” the BBC reported.
After the concert, six people tested positive within 14 days, “but the incidence was lower than that seen in the general population”, another BBC article noted.
Scientists found that the rate of infection among concertgoers was half the rate of people of the same age in Barcelona.
"There is no sign that suggests transmission took place during the event," infectious disease specialist Josep Maria Llibre told a news conference on April 27, 2021.
And in the Netherlands, another experiment was carried out on March 6, 2021 Saturday, with 1,300 revellers joining the fun at Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome, which has a capacity of 17,000.
Part of an experimental series called Fieldlab, the Ziggo Dome event was carried out with partygoers divided into groups.
Covid-19 restrictions have “a major impact on the events sector. For this reason Fieldlab Events has been created by the events sector in collaboration with the Dutch government. The aim of Fieldlab Events is to develop validated building blocks, which form proof of the safe and reliable approach needed,” the Fieldlab website notes.
According to the Guardian, “Those participating were traced in all their movements and contacts through a tag, as part of an effort to examine how events may safely be opened up for the public again. They had been divided into five “bubbles” of 250 people, plus one of 50, each of which had to comply with different rules.”
Some were asked to wear masks at all times, some only when they moved around. One group helped test the spread of saliva and particles in the air by drinking a fluorescent drink.
For this event, around 6 times the capacity of the venue, a whopping 100,000 people applied for the €15 ($ 18) tickets. The tickets were sold out in 20 minutes, showing the high demand for entertainment after strict lockdown measures.
Fieldlab came under pressure from opponents, who criticised the mass gatherings in April. According to Science, “more than 350 researchers criticized the studies in an open letter that complained of a lack of peer review, an intransparent setup, and ethical failings.”
“Basic conditions and standards for scientific research do not appear to have been met,” the authors wrote. “A festival with 10,000 visitors … is not risk free, even with entrance testing,” says Caspar van Lissa, a methodologist at Utrecht University, who wrote the open letter. “If it were, there would be no need to do the study.”
The Fieldlab team has responded to the criticism, publishing most of its protocols and a description of the risk model, Science reports.
Fieldlab’s goal is “to determine what’s an acceptable risk for visitors, event organizers, and administrators,” says Bas Kolen, a security researcher at the Delft University of Technology involved in the study, who talked to Science. Kolen says he supports “a healthy debate about its value.”
Some may find the mass events testing the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines, masks and degrees of social distancing disturbing, unethical and irresponsible, but for others, they are a breath of fresh air.
"What happened in there was just so bizarre," Emily Denissen, who celebrated her 32nd birthday at one of the [Fieldlab] concerts, told CNN. "People just completely let loose."
"I'm almost unable to describe in words what it was like," added Denissen. "It was so incredible."