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“Our heart bleeds”: Belgian government axes Pukkelpop 2021

The last festival standing has been told it cannot go ahead in its current format following changes to the rules around Covid-19 testing

By Jon Chapple on 23 Jul 2021


image © Pukkelpop

There will be no Pukkelpop this year after all, the festival announced today, as a result of new government regulations that would have required it to almost triple its on-site testing capacity with less than a month to go until gates open.

Pukkelpop – the last remaining major international music festival in Belgium following the cancellation last month of Tomorrowland – has been told by the Belgian federal government it may not proceed this year its current form, according to a statement from organisers. The 66,000-cap. festival would have taken place near Hasselt between 19 and 22 August with artists including Liam Gallagher, Editors, Future, Anne-Marie and Marshmello.

Amid ongoing uncertainty over the political situation, the festival suspended ticket sales and halted its build yesterday before confirming its cancellation this afternoon (23 July).

“The current framework has made it impossible for us to organise Pukkelpop,” say organisers. “The additional demands in terms of testing would require us to almost triple the testing capacity at and in the run-up to the festival.”

The festival has initially planned for a daily Covid-19 testing capacity of 7,000. However, recent changes in the minimum time for festivalgoers to take rapid antigen (lateral-flow) and PCR tests ahead of the event, announced by the Belgian government on Monday, have finally rendered Pukkelpop 2021 unfeasible, the statement continues.

“The government finds itself in an unenviable position and so do we,” it explains. “Originally a negative PCR test carried out within 72 hours of arrival was enough but on Monday this was reduced to 48 hours. In addition, a negative antigen test was no longer sufficient for fans to be admitted to the festival. Since Thursday antigen testing is allowed again, but the initial validity of 48 hours has been reduced to 24 hours.

“For a multi-day mass event with such a young audience, daily testing is simply not feasible”

“Initially we planned for a capacity of up to 7,000 tests per day at the Pukkelpop site but the 24/48 hour limit for the validity of, respectively, a rapid antigen test or a PCR test means that we would have to triple this capacity. To put things into perspective: this is 21 times the capacity of the Park Spoor Noord testing village in Antwerp at the height of its activities. The 24/48 hour limit effectively means tripling the number of tests, but there is no way we could guarantee the government we can organise this under safe circumstances. This is simple [maths] and a healthy dose of common sense.”

Organisers say the limited vaccine take-up among its young-skewing audience meant 80% of festivalgoers would have had to take a test on site.

“Despite the best efforts of [Belgium’s] vaccination task force and the many vaccination centres in the province of Limburg and beyond, we are forced to conclude that the vaccination rate within our target demographic is not as we had hoped,” they explain. “Almost eight in ten of our young audience would have to submit to testing. For a multi-day mass event with such a young audience, many of which haven’t had the opportunity to get vaccinated, daily testing of so many youngsters is simply not feasible.

“Pukkelpop mainly targets youngsters. They are the DNA of Pukkelpop, our core audience. Their happiness, but also their safety, is one of our number one concerns.

“We deeply regret the fact that the authorities made this decision just one month before the start of the festival but the Covid measures were always going to be subject to the latest developments. As a result, Pukkelpop 2021 can no longer take place as planned.”

“Our heart bleeds, especially for all those youngsters who were so looking forward to Pukkelpop this year,” they add. “More than anything we were rooting for them, but in the end a favourable outcome wasn’t on the cards.”


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