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10,000-person pilot event called off amid unrest

The future of the Netherlands’ highly publicised pilot events are in doubt after local authorities today (19 April) forced the cancellation of 538 Koningsdag, a 10,000-person festival which would have been the series’ largest event to date.

Fieldlab Evenementen, the industry-backed body responsible for organising the successful Back to Live series of test concerts, conferences, festivals and club events, announced last week that phase two of Back to Live would include 538 Koningsdag (‘King’s Day’) on 24 April, as well as a 3,500-person concert on 7 May and another nightclub event on 15 May.

While the shows to date – which, like pilot events in other countries, aim to test how coronavirus may be transmitted between audience members in a range of formats – have generally been received positively by music fans and in the wider industry, a backlash has been growing in recent days over the perceived cost of Back to Live, as well as the appropriateness of holding large events before enough Dutch have received Covid-19 vaccines.

While many of the objections are based on misinformation – for example, one popular tweet appears to confuse the €925 million the government has set aside for its Testen voor Toegang (Testing for Access) programme with Fieldlab’s costs, estimated at under €3m – a petition calling on organisers to cancel 538 Koningsdag appears to have genuine support, having drawn more than 370,000 signatures since Saturday.

The petitioners focus on the festival’s location in the city of Breda, near a hospital, as their chief grievance, writing that “celebrating a party with 10,000 people 400 metres from a hospital overloaded by Covid-19 is a blow to patients and caregivers”.

“The police are getting more and more signals that 538 Oranjedag will attract both supporters and opponents of Fieldlab”

Ultimately, the Dutch government left the decision to city authorities, which decided today to decline a permit for the event, this year also called 538 Oranjedag (‘Orange Day’), citing the potential for disruption at the festival.

“The police are getting more and more signals that 538 Oranjedag will attract both supporters and opponents of the [government’s] coronavirus policy and Fieldlab, with all the associated security risks,” says Breda’s mayor, Paul Depla. “As mayor, I stand for the safety of the police officers, local residents and visitors to the event.”

Everyone who bought tickets for the festival will be refunded, says Radio 538.

Another Fieldlab event, Startschotgala (1 May) in Lichtenvoorde – another festival-type event that sold all 10,000 tickets in just ten minutes – will also be called off, and more cancellations are expected, according to local media.

Annette Bronsvoort, mayor of Oost Gelre, says the cancellation was the decision of organisers, not the city. “This is because of the social debate, and the pressure on healthcare,” she says in a statement. “I understand this decision and I respect it. ”

Preliminary results from the first Back to Live shows in February revealed that the risk of transmission in a live environment is low, tallying with studies from other countries – and a result organisers had hoped to replicate with the larger events.

At press time, the Netherlands had 8,505 new cases of Covid-19.

 


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