Spanish Pilot Test Shows No Signs of COVID-19 Spread

2nd May, 2021

The band Love of Lesbian gave the soundtrack to a pandemic historic moment: a live concert for thousands of people. All were tested at the time and there were only 6 positive cases.

Around 7:30 pm (CET) on 27 March, the Palau de Sant Jordi (cap. 17,000) had 5,000 people gathered to see a performance by the Spanish group "Love of Lesbian". 

The concert did not require measures of social distance: instead - and in addition to the quick tests performed on everyone who entered the venue - there were temperature measurements, free FFP2 masks and hundreds of liters of alcohol gel. Other Covid mitigation measures included enhanced ventilation in the venue, and the crowd being split into three areas but able to move without restrictions. To gain entry ticket buyers were required to have been tested negative for Covid-19. When tickets were purchased, buyers were required to download a smartphone app that was loaded with their test result, it then generated a QR code that enabled the user to gain access to the show.

According to organiser statistics, only six of the 5,000 spectators were positive for infection with Covid-19, representing a cumulative incidence of 130.7 cases per 100,000, while the average in Barcelona during the same period and between the same age groups has been 259.5 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Four of the people that tested positive following the gig were deemed to have caught the virus somewhere other than the show. “There is no sign that suggests transmission took place during the event,” said Josep Maria Llibre a member of the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital, who led the experiment.

But there is still some impasse on several open questions, say researchers Buenaventura Clotet and Boris Rebollo, who also participated in the pilot test. There are doubts, for example, about the inclusion of vaccinated people in the study, since, according to Clotet, “a vaccinated person, even with a low viral load, can still transmit [the coronavirus]." 

There are also questions about how such an event could be carried out in smaller venues, which do not have the resources to carry out on-site antigen tests. Jordi Herreruela, the director of the Cruïlla music festival – which is expected to bring together 25,000 people a day at the three-day event in summer – said that “what’s most difficult is correctly verifying the test results and being able to give a valid result to each person studied.” He explained that while the pilot at the Palau Sant Jordi showed that such a feat was possible, it comes “with a very high economic cost.”

The decision to move forward with this format involved senior officials from the local government such as the Minister of Culture of the Generalitat, Àngels Ponsa; the Minister of Territory and Sustainability, Damià Calvet; the Secretary General of Health, Marc Ramentol, and the Vice President of the City of Barcelona, Janet Sanz - all of whom wanted to test the return of something that in a pandemic scenario seemed unattainable.

At the end of the gig, Ramentol confirmed that "rehearsals" like this allow us to better understand how it will be possible "to open the doors and restore the normality of cultural life while respecting legal and safety standards". He also defended that this return is something that is eagerly awaited by everyone and that recovering these spaces and cultural events after “a year of restrictive measures that limit social life” is essential to combat the negative impact both on culture workers and younger social groups.

This pilot test was promoted by the platform "Festival for Safe Culture", which is based on the pioneering rehearsal that was held at Sala Apolo (concert venue in Barcelona) on December 12, 2020 - which resulted in none of the 463 attendees being infected with coronavirus - and organised by Primavera Sound and the Foundation for the Fight against AIDS and Infectious Diseases.

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