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Israeli live industry now operating without restrictions

Israel’s successful Covid-19 vaccination programme is allowing event organisers in the country to operate as they did back in 2019, after the country’s government abolished any restrictions for mass gatherings.

The country’s emergence from pandemic restrictions has been rapid, thanks to its hugely effective vaccination regime, which has already resulted in the majority of the Israeli population being double jabbed.

That situation has allowed local promoter Shuki Weiss to press ahead with its national tour of local superstars Fortisakharof, who currently find themselves in the midst of an 11-date tour which will culminate in a headline show at the sold-out, 12,000-capacity inDnegev Festival in late September.

“It’s been a bit of a wild rollercoaster ride, but the thirst for live events is now massive,” says Shuki Weiss managing director Oren Arnon. “Last year we had two periods of shows with restrictions in June and September, but it was disappointing as they were shut down again quite quickly.”

One ability that has been key to the restart is being agile, Arnon tells IQ, as the changing guidelines allow production crews to implement different configurations.

“The original Fortisakharof tour was set for two shows at Ra’anana in May 2020 and both shows sold out with about 16,000 tickets,” he recalls. “They were postponed to September 2020 and then May ’21. In May there were still restrictions here, meaning we could only play to about 3,000-4,000 cap. So we broke down those two shows into a five-night residency at Ra’anana and then essentially sold a bunch more tickets – we’re ending up with about 23,000 in total.

“It’s been a bit of a wild rollercoaster ride, but the thirst for live events is now massive,”

‘But meanwhile, before we played the first show, they lifted the restrictions and in theory we could play 8,000-cap, but we had already set up a design for the show for 4,000 people, which we were able to expand to about 5,000 people.

“And then we had a round of missiles.

“So those two nights back-to-back became five nights over about ten days with some of the other theatres intertwined between, because they were already booked for dates that were after the first run.”

Arnon states that the sad fact of like in Israel is that people are used to military conflict. “But as soon as it’s over, everyone is also just used to getting back to normal and in this case I think that was magnified,” he says. “In Israeli culture, being outside with lots of people is incredibly normal for us and it’s a big part of why concerts have been such a huge draw, disproportionate to the nine million people that live in this country.”

Keen to share his experience of emerging from the pandemic, Arnon reports, “The first month here was such chaos with everything just suddenly opening up. The thirst was incredible and anything that was happening immediately was just getting eaten up.

“Concessions and security teams are having a hard time finding casual staff, but that’s mostly because Israel gave everybody unemployment money up until the end of June. But with the technical crews and especially the more experienced ones, everyone pretty much is back in the game.

International shows will depend on other territories also reaching a status similar to Israel

“But everyone is rusty – the venue is rusty, the audience is rusty – the whole thing has been a weird experience even down to relatively simple things like shows in venues, which we have been doing forever.

“But our shows no longer have to involve social distancing, or masks, and as of last week, we are not even checking for the green passport which was issued to everyone vaccinated here.

“From 1 June, we don’t need any testing or proof of vaccination for any mass gathering in Israel,” he explains, adding that the speed of vaccination and the numbers of people who lined up for the injections helped infection rates drop massively.

“I think we reached 65 or 70% about a month ago and then the infection rate just disappeared, there haven’t been people dying of it, the hospital beds have opened up, meaning now you can go anywhere whether you are vaccinated or not and the only place where there are restrictions are at the borders, where you still need PCR tests and there’s still monitoring of who comes into the country.”

As for the rest of the year, Arnon reveals that discussions with international acts are already happening, but shows will depend on other territories also reaching a status similar to Israel. “A lot of the acts we are speaking to are very hesitant, so we’re going to have to see who else is able to play along because going from the US to Israel for a one-off concert isn’t going to make sense to anyone, but there are some bands who are playing in the UK later this year who are looking at plans to come here, too. So we’re optimistic and keeping busy with what we’ve got in the meantime.”

 


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Flemish gov optimistic about Pukkelpop, Tomorrowland

The Flemish government says large events such as Pukkelpop and Tomorrowland should be able to go ahead in late summer, under certain conditions.

The reassurance for Belgian festival organisers comes after the government unveiled its summer ‘Freedom Plan’ yesterday (9 May), which ventures that all adults would have had the chance to be vaccinated by mid-August.

Flemish minister of health Frank Vandenbroucke says the implementation of the Green Pass – the European corona passport which shows vaccination status and test results – will be key to restarting large events.

Other conditions include on-site Covid-19 testing and limiting access to events to Europeans: “We will not invite the whole world. Within Europe, too, we have to be careful who we admit,” says Vandenbroucke.

The Flemish minister of health says the implementation of the Green Pass will be key to restarting large events

According to the Freedom Plan, large events can restart in July under certain conditions. Events can take place with 5,000 outdoors or 3,000 indoors provided attendees adhere to social distancing and mask-wearing.

In August, the maximum number of people allowed at outdoor events is increased to 10,000, and 4,500 indoors.

Pukkelpop (cap. 60,000) and Tomorrowland (70,000) are set to take place in late August and early September respectively and are the last major Belgian festivals still planning to go ahead after Rock Werchter and Graspop cancelled their 2021 events.

The cancellations came despite the Flemish government’s €60 million pot to help the region’s organisers kickstart preparations for this summer’s festival season.


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Bigger concerts as pandemic ‘dies out’ in Israel

The Israeli government has signed off on plans to allow up to 10,000 people in the country’s largest outdoor venues, as a senior public health official said there is evidence Covid-19 is “dying out” in Israel following a successful vaccination drive.

As of today (8 April), seated events that do not serve food, including concerts and sporting events, may host up to 10,000 people outdoors and 4,000 inside. Non-seated events, and/or those where food is served, are restricted to 750 people, up from 500 at the time of writing.

Additionally, up to 100 people are now allowed to gather outside for private events, though the existing limit of 20 people indoors remains in place.

The new capacity limits will remain in place until 22 April, when they will be reviewed by Israel’s coronavirus cabinet.

“This allows us to open up the economy and give the green light for weddings, concerts and events”

All this is being made possible by Israel’s green pass programme, named for the documents issued to Israelis who have received both doses of Covid-19 vaccine, which has allowed concerts to restart where attendees can prove their vaccine status.

The new, looser limits apply only to those with green passes, though ministers have also eased restrictions for Israel’s Memorial Day (13–14 April), allowing families of the fallen who do not have the green pass to attend remembrance ceremonies.

Dr Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Ministry of Health, said earlier this week that a jump in the R number – the reproduction rate of the coronavirus – in Israel from 0.52 to 0.78 is no cause for concern. “The pandemic is dying out,” she explained, “albeit at a slower pace. But as long as it [the R number] is below one, there is no room for concern.”

“Most of the localities in Israel have low morbidity. Meanwhile, there are almost no significant virus concentrations and no hotspots at all,” she added. “This allows us to open up the economy and give the green light for weddings, concerts and events, as well as gradually opening up the education system.”

 


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Israel rolls out green pass for vaccinated concertgoers

The first concert held as part of the latest reopening of the Israeli economy took place over the weekend, with entry restricted to those who have had two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Singer Ivri Lider, one half of electro-pop due the Young Professionals (TYP) and a judge on The X-Factor Israel, performed to an audience of 500 fans at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium for a show organised by authorities in Israel’s second-largest city. Up to 1,000 people are now allowed at indoor events in Israel, and 1,500 for open-air shows, provided they have a ‘green pass’ – documentation showing they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

In a video posted to the city of Tel Aviv Twitter page, Lider is shown performing to a non-socially distanced – albeit seated and mask-wearing – audience seated in a single stand of the 29,400-capacity Bloomfield Stadium, which is home to Israeli Premier League football team Hapoel Tel Aviv. The stadium has previous hosted a number of major concerts, including shows by Rihanna, Celina Dion, Soundgarden, Phil Collins, Pixies, Barbra Streisand and the Black Eyed Peas.

The 1,000/1,500-person limit currently only applies to venues with over 10,000 seats, although up to 500 people are allowed in indoor venues smaller than that, and up to 750 people in any open space.

The green pass programme, designed to ensure Israel’s third lockdown was its last, is similarly allowing many hospitality, leisure and retail businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, cafés, gyms and shops, to reopen without social distancing, although some have objected on a civil rights basis to what they see as enforcing vaccinations. Over 40% of Israelis have already had both doses of the vaccine.

“After a year of Covid we can finally restart our cultural and entertainment activities”

The Friday 5 March Ivri Lider show was the first of four concerts being organised in Bloomfield Stadium by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, which governs the Mediterranean city. In order to enter the stadium, concertgoers had to produce their green pass – a certificate, either physical or virtual, issued by the Ministry of Health – confirming they had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19.

It was followed by a show on Sunday 7 March by ’80s pop star Yardena Arazi, who similarly played to an audience of 500 green pass holders.

Speaking to the Media Line news agency, Tel Aviv city spokesman Eytan Schwartz said both shows sold out within a quarter of an hour. “People are very eager to come and have a good time,” he says.

One Ivri Lider fan, Reut Gofer, told Agence France-Presse: “This is really cool. I am so happy. I hope this is the beginning of a period when we will return to our normal life.”

“As the majority of our population is already vaccinated, after a year of Covid we can finally restart our cultural and entertainment activities,” Schwartz added.

“We are organising these concerts because we want […] to have access to culture again, we want to regain our previous life. I hope that very soon we will be able to fill this stadium with 30,000 people, as it should be.”

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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