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Lessons learnt from ‘super-spreader’ festival

Verknipt, an outdoor festival in the Netherlands, has become a cautionary tale for the sector after it recorded more than 1,000 Covid infections among 20,000 attendees.

The two-day event took place in Utrecht in early July and all attendees were required to show a QR code that demonstrated that they were either vaccinated, had recently had a Covid infection, or had a negative Covid test.

Despite the festival’s entry requirements, the event recorded 1,100 infections among the attendees, prompting the municipal health service (GGD) of Utrecht to investigate the origin of the infections, as well as suspected large-scale fraud with test tickets.

The GGD checked the pathways of nearly 400 infected Verknipt visitors from the province of Utrecht and concluded that at least 34% of those surveyed were likely Covid-positive even before they arrived at the site, it was reported by de Volkskrant.

The festival accepted negative rapid tests taken up to 40 hours prior to the event, meaning attendees had a significant window in which they could become unknowingly infected. Experts said the timeframe was ‘far too long’.

“We should have had a 24 hour [period], that would be a lot better because in 40 hours people can do a lot of things”

Lennart van Trigt, a spokesman for the Utrecht health board, or GGD, previously said: “This period is too long. We should have had a 24 hour [period], that would be a lot better because in 40 hours people can do a lot of things like visiting friends and going to bars and clubs.”

According to the GGD’s research, about 90% of the infected festivalgoers surveyed had attended multiple other social events earlier that week at which they may have become infected – following the relaxation of nightlife restrictions on 26 June.

The GGD was not able to trace the other infected festivalgoers from other regions and stressed that the research is not complete. The health service found no indications of large-scale fraud involving test tickets.

Another issue was that residents in the Netherlands could get a Covid pass for the festival immediately after being vaccinated and didn’t have to show a negative Covid test, though research shows it takes several weeks for immunity to build following a Covid vaccine.

“It is striking that 34% of the infected festival-goers we examined were already infected,” says the spokesperson for the GGD region of Utrecht. You can’t blame the youngsters, she thinks. “They had heard from the government that they were allowed to party.”

Just over two weeks after the Netherlands’ rollback of restrictions, Covid cases increased exponentially and the Dutch prime minister acknowledged that the cabinet made an error of judgment.

The easing has largely been reversed in the weeks following as the government this week extended its ban on multi-day events until September, resulting in the cancellation of major events such as Lowlands, Down the Rabbit Hole and Mysteryland.

More than 30 other event organisations including Event Warehouse/Paaspop, DGTL and F1 Dutch Grand Prix Zandvoort joined ID&T as co-plaintiffs in its legal proceedings against the Dutch government over the “carelessly prepared” restrictions.


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No infections recorded at Pohoda on the Ground

Slovakia’s Pohoda on the Ground did not record a single positive Covid-19 result throughout the “extraordinary” five days it took place, according to organisers.

The festival mini-series took place between 7–11 July 2021 at Trenčín Airport in western Slovakia instead of the flagship event, which was cancelled for a second consecutive year.

A maximum of 1,000 people were permitted on each of the five days, including campers who had their own designated space.

According to the organisers, nearly three-quarters of the visitors were vaccinated (twice as much as the national average), for whom pre-testing was not mandatory.

All non-vaccinated people (including crew) were tested at one of the festival’s seven test sites and not a single positive Covid-19 result was recorded in more than 2,200 tests, prompting the organisers to declare that “well-established cultural events can be even safer from the epidemiological point of view than the streets of our cities”.

“The Pohoda on the Ground Festival started as a concept full of uncertainty but all obstacles are negligible in terms of its outcome. The measures were worth it; I feel that we have managed to create a space full of freedom, a celebration of art, tolerance, and the joy of meeting,” says Pohoda’s Michal Kaščák.

“[The festival] started as a concept full of uncertainty but all obstacles are negligible in terms of its outcome”

“I would like to thank everyone who contributed to its implementation—the commitment of many was huge and admirable, and visitors made sense of all our efforts. Also, this Pohoda has shown the importance of live art. We keep our fingers crossed for the other organisers of live culture events; we wish them to experience similar feelings of joy as we are experiencing now, so that they can realise their events in the freest possible format.”

Among the artists that performed at Pohoda on the Ground were Jewish DJ Ramzy Al Spinoza, Palestinian rapper MC Safaa Hathot, Korean-British duo Wooze, British band Dry Cleaning and Kinshasa-hailing collective Fulu Miziki.

Performances could be watched virtually on the festival’s 16-hour live stream which was viewed more than 3,000 times on the festival’s website, watched on YouTube more than 2,000 times, and Facebook videos were watched more than 18,000 times.

Marquee event Pohoda (cap. 30,000), which is the biggest festival in Slovakia, is due to return to Trenčín Airport between 7–9 July 2022.

Confirmed names for Pohoda 2022 include Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Libertines, Richie Hawtin, Black Pumas, Metronomy, Wolf Alice, slowthai.


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