COVID-19: The trials and tribulations

Like a never-ending encore or the stragglers that just won’t go home, COVID has become the event industry’s ultimate challenge! Despite the setbacks of the last year, there is plenty happening at home and abroad to be encouraged by, while on the road to recovery.

The results from a 5,000 capacity trial event in Barcelona have shown attendees have no signs of infection according to the event organisers. While in Liverpool thousands packed into Sefton Park for a mini festival, along with another event that was held in Bramley-Moore Dock that also saw 5,000 revellers descend on a warehouse for a trial rave.


At these events in Liverpool there were no masks and attendees were not required to be social distanced or at risk for getting fined. Prior to the event, attendees were required to take a supervised lateral flow test in one of the city’s four testing centres and were encouraged to get a PCR test on the day of the event. University of Liverpool scientist, Iain Buchan, one of the scientists leading the trials, insisted that infection rates were low enough that the chances of an outbreak were slim. 69 cases were reported in Liverpool in the week running up to the event, according to official figures. “The risk of encountering someone positive in there might be 1 in 5,000,” Buchan confirmed. The event was part of the Events Research Programme (ERP), which will provide data on how events for a range of audiences could be permitted to safely re-open. Owners of other event spaces in the UK highlighted the need to resist a one size fits all attitude and suggested more trial events are required to understand other venues specifications. Those that attended events in Liverpool are said to be tested again soon.


In Barcelona their trial event was organised by Spanish music promoters and specialists from Trias i Puyol Hospital. Concert goers were required to take a PCR test two weeks in advance of the event. The attendees were also required to wear a FPP2 mask, however there was no social distancing.15 days after the event the crowd was tested again, 6 people tested positive for COVID, although organisers stated: “We are certain that in four of these six cases, transmission did not take place during the concert,” Dr Llibre said.”With optimised ventilation, antigen tests and the wearing of face masks, we can guarantee a safe space.”

The Virologist involved in the design of the health protocols at the concert, Boris Revollo, said he could not “categorically” rule out that the other two people were infected during the concert but there was a “very high probability” that this wasn’t the case.


Back in March, Dutch Government and a group of event planners came together to form the “Field Lab” to arrange a series of trial event from dance festivals, a seated concert and a football game to study the behaviour of attendees and track any possible infections. All event attendees tested negative for coronavirus no more than 48 hours in advance and wore electronic tags to track contacts in this government-backed initiative. “So far the guinea pigs were very happy with being in the research,” laughs Andreas Voss, professor of infection control at Radboud University. While they have not yet published any conclusive results, Voss said that by comparing the data from concert-goers to that from the general population, they believe that attending a well-regulated event, divided into bubbles, with a negative PCR test, is no more risky than going about your normal daily life in the Netherlands.

Internationally renowned for its electronic dance music festivals, a proported $8 billion industry, the Government’s trial dance event invited 1,300 event attendees (100,000 people entered to win tickets to attend) that were split into five groups with different rules. Some had to wear face masks, while others were encouraged to shout and cheer as much as possible. Everyone was equipped with sensors to monitor how much contact they had with others.

Similarly, Amsterdam’s Fieldlab plans to use the Eurovision Song Contest as one of their last field experiment including nine rehearsals and televised shows, staged 18–22 May in Rotterdam that will have each have 3500 event attendees. Those admitted can choose to drop social distancing and go without face masks—precautions currently mandatory in indoor public spaces in the Netherlands, where most people remain unvaccinated. Eurovision organisers say they are closely following public sentiment and epidemiological trends before making a definitive decision on whether they will go ahead with the event.

Interestingly as Fieldlab’s test events grow, COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands have surged also. A music festival planned for 10,000 people on 24 April was banned after more than 300,000 people complained.  Over 350 researchers have criticised Fieldlab’s studies for a lack of peer review, an intransparent setup, and ethical failings. “A festival with 10,000 visitors … is not risk free, even with entrance testing,” says Caspar van Lissa, a methodologist at Utrecht University stating “If it were, there would be no need to do the study.” In general critics question Fieldlab’s statement that the events are, on the whole, safe. Participants are requested to take a second COVID-19 test 5 days after the event, and at least 25 people have tested positive, although for most of them it’s hard to determine whether they were infected at the event. Fieldlab’s main gauge of risk isn’t the number of infections detected, however, but the number predicted by a model that incorporates data on ventilation and people’s behaviour, including mask wearing and how many superficial or close, extended contacts they have at the event, measured using trackers and video analyses. We look forward to seeing their results!


Closer to home here in Ireland, AVA have confidently announced their line-up for the 2-day electronic music festival in Belfast this September, which is a good indication of things to come. From a sporting perspective, Leinster Rugby has requested to host a trial game with a limited capacity of 2,000 in attendance to figure out how to safely accommodate spectators at Irish events. Following Leinster’s appeal to host a trial game with fans in attendance it was suggested that the clash of Dundalk and Rovers at Oriel Park on May 21 will potentially see a portion of fans allowed in. Using the Leinster benchmark, the attendance would equate to 500 fans. Once the FAI can prove games are managed safety, crowds will gradually return for all fixtures in the Premier and First Division. An FAI spokesperson said about Leinster’s application to the health authorities: “The association is currently investigating similar initiatives to accelerate the return to watch for our fans and will seek to trial one of these initiatives around an upcoming League of Ireland fixture.

Beyond the pitch, Palmerstown House Estate in Kildare has announced a series of weekend live outdoor gigs called At The Manor in July and August This socially distanced affair will arrange guests into pods which cater for four to six people seated at their own individual picnic table (whole pod booking only, no single tickets are available)  to enjoy food, drink and music. Acts announced include The Joshua Tree and The Swing Cats. At The Manor got Michelin-star chef Derry Clarke on hand to provide unique gourmet offerings via their BBQ Swing Grill and Smokehouse….maybe we’ll see you there?

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