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Major European markets fear for festival season

Major European live music markets such as Germany and England have shared fears over the impending festival season.

German live music association LiveKomm has today warned of “the end of club and festival culture as we know it”.

The association has penned an urgent appeal to policymakers, calling for clarity around the reopening of the cultural sector.

“The political mode must be more transparent, otherwise the industry cannot prepare for opening scenarios,” reads the letter.

“Optimistic voices assume that the rules will be relaxed soon, this must not happen without the clubs being taken into account and must also be communicated as such. Everything is currently up in the air, staff, planning and operation, festivals and clubs are completely blank.”

LiveKomm is also urging that the federal government take preventive measures before the autumn in case of another wave of Covid-19.

“Renewed lockdowns and closures must be prevented. After two years politicians can be asked to take preventive measures and plans that start before the wave to protect the cultural industry,” it reads.

“Anything else would be a total failure. This includes, among other things, test capacities, and the lack of PCR test capacities cannot be justified for this winter. Any planning omissions in the coming period will destroy livelihoods in autumn.”

“We may be emerging from the shadow of the pandemic, but this year will not be a case of ‘back to business as usual’”

LiveKomm’s plea follows a similar appeal from Germany’s Event Management Forum (EMF) to the government to follow the lead of other European nations and drop all Covid restrictions.

England, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are among the markets that have fully reopened – though many have warned that the lifting of restrictions isn’t a silver bullet for the live industry.

In England, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) is warning of a ‘perfect storm’ heading for the UK’s festival season.

A live entertainment supply chain crisis, workforce shortages, and the effects of Brexit are chief among AIF’s concerns.

“We may be emerging from the shadow of the pandemic in the UK, but this year will not be a case of ‘back to business as usual’ without critical support for festival organisers,” AIF CEO Paul Reed said today during his opening speech at the 2022 Festival Congress.

“That’s why we’re calling on the government to aid our recovery and maintain the current reduced 12.5% rate on tickets beyond the end of March, as well as looking at some form of government-backed loan scheme for suppliers to alleviate some of these pressures and encourage investment in the festival supply chain,” he continues.

“We also urge government to reconsider removing the tax relief for certain biofuels, which further increases cost and is completely counter-productive to promoting better environmental practice across the sector.”


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Road to recovery: A timeline of pilot projects

In August 2020, Germany paved the way for live music pilot projects with Restart-19, an experiment which saw thousands of volunteers to take part in a concert at the Quarterback Immobilien Arena in Leipzig with singer Tim Bendzko.

Since then, similar experiments have popped up across the globe. From Spain to Singapore, test events with as few as 50 participants and as many as 5,000 have taken place to prove to authorities (and the world) that when it comes to safety and security, the live music industry knows what it’s doing.

Below is a timeline of the pilot projects that have taken place since late summer 2020 – all of which have proved, in one way or another, that the live entertainment sector can reopen safely under certain measures – as well as the tests that are on the horizon in 2021.

August 2020

When: 22 August 2020
Where: Quarterback Immobilien Arena, Leipzig, Germany
Who: University Medical Center of Halle
What they said: “[T]he contacts that do occur at an event do not involve all participants. Therefore, events could take place under specific conditions during a pandemic.”
Participants: 1,500

November 2020

Konzerthaus Dortmund (study)
When: 2–3, 20 November 2020
Where: Konzerthaus Dortmund, Germany
Who: Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute Goslar, ParteQ
What they said: “Concert halls and theatres are not places of infection. […] With our study, we want to ensure that concert halls and theatres may again admit sufficient audiences when they reopen.”

December 2020

When: 12 December 2020
Where: Apolo, Barcelona, Spain
Who: Primavera Sound, Germans Trias Hospital, the Fight Aids and Infectious Diseases Foundation
What they said: “A live music concert, staged with a series of security measures that included a negative antigen test for Sars- CoV-2 done on the same day, was not associated with an increase in Covid-19 infections.”
Participants: 1,047

Philharmonie de Paris (study)
When: 16 December 2020
Where: Philharmonie de Paris, France
Who: Dassault Systèmes
What they said: “The combination of face masks with a fresh-air supply built into every seat gives the indoor Philharmonie a similar profile to that of an outdoor space, with a very limited risk of spread from one side [of the venue] to the other.”

Back to Live (SG)
When: 18–19 December 2020 Where: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay, Singapore
Who: AEG Presents, Collective Minds
What they said: “[T]he outcome of such pilots will be critical to our ongoing efforts to allow events of a larger scale to resume in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Participants: 500

February 2021

Because Music Matters
When: 10–14 February
Where: Rockhal, Luxembourg
Who: Rockhal
What they said: “Building confidence among all our stakeholders that live events are a safe environment is so important.”
Participants: 100 per night

Back to Live (NL)
When: 15, 20, 21, 28 February & 6, 7, 20, 21 March 2021
Where: The Netherlands
Who: Fieldlab Evenementen
What they said: “We can now show that we can organise events in a very safe way. […] We hope this can lead to a tailor- made reopening of venues.”
Participants: Varies between events

March 2021

Love of Lesbian
When: 27 March 2021
Where: Palau Sant Jordi, Barcelona
Who: Festivals per la Cultura Segura
What they said: The event had no impact on Covid-19 transmission among attendees, despite the lack of social distancing observed.
Participants: 5,000

The Berlin Philharmonic
When: 20 March 2021
Where: Chamber Music Hall, Berlin
Who: Pilotprojekt, Berlin department of culture
What they said: ‘Zero infections among the 1,000 people who attended the show is further proof that events can be organised safely during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.’
Participants: 680

April 2021

Jonathan theatre performance
When: 26 April–9 May 2021
Where: Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS), Belgium
Who: KVS and Belgium’s Ministry of Culture
What they said: “An important observation is that the CO2 value and the relative humidity have barely increased. We saw the figure increase from 500 ppm to 600 ppm, while the maximum permitted value is 1200 ppm. This is of course only a first indication.”
Participants: 50–250

May 2021

Events Research Programme
When: April/May 2021
Where: Sefton Park and Bramley-Moore Dock in Liverpool, Brit Awards in London, The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and more
Who: Festival Republic, Circus, BPI, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and more
What they said: “These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing. We will be guided by the science and medical experts but will work flat out to make that happen.”
Participants: 300–21,000

TBC 2021

Denmark Trials
When: TBC 2021
Where: Denmark
Who: Dansk Live, Divisionsforeningen
What they said: “This should very much lead to a much-needed festival summer and many great concert experiences across the country in 2021.”

Paris test
When: TBC 2021
Where: Accor Arena, Paris
Who: Ministry of Health, Ministry of Culture, St Louis Hospital, Prodiss
Participants: 5,000

Marseille test
When: TBC 2021
Where: Dôme, Marseille
Who: The city of Marseille, Inserm, Béatrice Desgranges (Marsatac, SMA)
Participants: 1,000


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Covid dogs sniff out virus in Helsinki

The professor behind a groundbreaking pilot scheme exploring whether dogs may be used to detect coronavirus in humans, currently underway in Finland, has said the testing method could become a cheap, quick way to detect the presence of Covid-19 in attendees to sporting and cultural events.

Trained scent-detection dogs have been deployed at Finland’s main international airport, Helsinki-Vantaa, as part of a state-financed trial led by the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

The four-month trial, which began on Wednesday (23 September), hopes to prove researchers’ theory that having dogs sniff for coronavirus – the trained canines can apparently smell the presence of Covid-19 on a wipe passed over an infected person’s skin – is even more reliable than a PCR test, currently the most commonly used test for the disease.

“This will be a good screening method at many other places”

According to the university, dogs can detect the presence coronavirus from a “significantly lower” amount of virus than PCR tests, allowing them to identify Covid-19 in humans earlier than laboratory tests. Research has also found that, unlike lab tests, a dog’s nose can identify infection in asymptomatic people.

Anna Hielm-Björk­man, a professor of equine and small-animal medicine at the university, tells the Press Association that, should the trial be a success, “it will be a good screening method at many other places”, including cultural events, sports venues and old people’s homes.

The Finnish pilot is the first in Europe and the second in the world, after a similar scheme recently introduced in Dubai.

According to Timo Aronkyto, the deputy mayor of Vantaa, where the airport is located, the programme is costing just 300,000. This, he tells PA, is significantly less than than other methods of mass testing new arrivals.


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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Fans are Back: UK firms present Covid pass to PM

Following Wednesday’s much-discussed press briefing, a consortium of UK companies has presented prime minister Boris Johnson with a Covid-19 testing solution that aims to get fans back into entertainment and sports venues.

Described as an “end-to-end, 360-degree” testing and technology solution, Fans are Back was conceived by Manchester-based tech company VST Enterprises Ltd (VSTE), sports marketing consultancy Redstrike, event safety specialist Halo and occupational health provider Latus Health.

It incorporates Covid-19 testing, contact tracing and a health ‘passport’, and follows Johnson’s suggestion earlier this week that venues could be allowed to open without social distancing through a combination of mass testing and passes/passports certifying attendees’ healthiness.

The plan – which has already been put in front of both Johnson and the British government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee – involves the use of 10-minute rapid test kits and a secure digital health passport that authorises a person’s identity and their Covid-19 test status.

A built-in track-and-trace app, part of VSTE’s existing VHealth Passport infrastructure, uses anonymised data to detect positive infection contacts in venues, stadia and theatres.

“Concert venues, sports stadia and theatres cannot survive much longer without an end-to-end solution”

VSTE’s CEO, Louis-James Davis, comments: “VHealth Passport is the unique 360-degree solution in getting all music venues, concerts, sports stadia and theatres back to full capacity securely and safely without the need to social distance.

“We know that while social-distancing pilots have worked, they cannot be sustained in the long term because of the financial economics of not having fans present. A regime of rapid testing alongside existing PCR-based tests is the only way we can progress forward, and was in tune with how the prime minister outlined the government’s plan for mass testing. This is vital not just for the British economy, but our entire way of life.

“Concert venues, sports stadia and theatres cannot survive much longer without an end-to-end solution that is safe and secure…”

The Fans are Back plan has won the backing of former sports minister Richard Caborn, as well as Olympians and royals Mike and Zara Tindall (the Queen’s granddaughter).

Davis is optimistic his solution will have greater take-up than the government’s own contact-tracing app, pointing to the fact that music fans will be incentivised to get tested in order to attend concerts again.

The Fans are Back solution incorporates Covid-19 testing, contact tracing and a health passport

“The UK government’s NHS contact-tracing app had a number of issues, from privacy and security through to false flag alerts and a general apathy by the public to engage,” he continues. “Put simply, there was no incentive for the public to engage and adopt the ‘track-and-trace’ system.

“The reason why the VHealth Passport will have greater engagement with the public is simply down to incentive. We engage with audiences to adopt testing and passporting and incentivise their attendance.

“If a music or sports fan or theatregoer wants to attend an event, then they will only be allowed into that venue having taken a Covid-19 test prior to their arrival and their negative test result uploaded to a valid VHealth Passport by a qualified health care professional and scanned upon entry.”

Five months in development, the test and passport combination is priced at £15 (€16.20). VSTE currently has 200 testing centres in its app, and says it expects this to rise to more than 1,000 in the coming weeks.


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FR boss unveils plan to restart industry at full capacity

Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, has designed an incentive-based plan to allow the restarting of live shows at full capacity, through an increase of testing and contract tracing.

Social distancing has proved a controversial topic within the live industry, with many sharing doubts as to the viability of putting on reduced-capacity shows.

The Full Capacity Plan aims to facilitate the reopening of the leisure sector without capacity limitations, by increasing public use of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) Trace App and upping participation in testing through an incentive-based scheme.

The plan would see those who have bought tickets to shows or booked a table at a restaurant invited to attend a high-street shop to collect a home-testing kit and download the NH tracing app.

Those who test negative and agree to use the tracing app would be allowed to return to concerts, pubs, theatres and sporting events.

Although the UK government currently has the capacity to test 1.4 million people a week, fewer than 700,000 weekly tests are taking place, “because there is no incentive”, says Benn, who oversees events including Wireless, Download, Latitude and Reading and Leeds festivals.

“I am proposing the Full Capacity Plan to stimulate the debate about getting back to normal opening rather than partial opening”

“My plan is to create incentive, to test at least double the current capacity and be aiming for 12 to 15m people a month being tested minimum,” explains Benn.

“I am proposing the Full Capacity Plan to stimulate the debate about getting back to normal opening rather than partial opening because partial opening is financial disaster opening.

“[The plan] is simple and easy, inexpensive in comparison to the subsidies that the government is currently paying and very achievable with good organisation.”

A provisional timeline foresees a pilot scheme beginning later this month, in partnership with the British government, with the first events going ahead in accordance with the plan in August.

If all goes well, the industry may be able to restart at full capacity by November.

The virtual edition of Download Festival, Download TV, is taking place from 12 to 14 June, with exclusive footage from headliners Kiss, Iron Maiden and System of a Down, whereas the virtual-reality Wireless Connect will air from 3 to 5 July.


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South Korea: Venues open, despite Covid-19 spike

There are no plans to reinstate social distancing in South Korea, one of the first countries to report cases of Covid-19, despite a spike in infections linked to a cluster of venues in Seoul, the country’s deputy health minister has said.

Health officials were placed on high alert last week when a 29-year-old clubgoer tested positive for Covid-19 after having visited five nightlife venues in the neighbourhood of Itaewon, potentially exposing thousands to the virus, according to UPI. At press time, there had been 76 confirmed patients who attended the Itaewon clubs, as well as 43 who were infected through secondary transmission.

While some Seoul nightclubs and bars were temporarily re-shuttered, the government has stood by its decision to ease restrictions by reopening offices, public facilities and sports centres, reports Reuters. Despite the reopenings, daily infections remain under 50 a day (for comparison, the still-locked-down UK, which has only 15 million more people than South Korea’s 51.6m, is still reporting more than 3,000 daily cases).

“For now, we will monitor how the current transmissions go and review [at a later date] whether we should reconsider our distancing policy,” said Kim Gang-lip at a media briefing today (13 May).

Live entertainment began to return to Korea in March, after the January–February peak in infections, at a time when much of the western world was still formulating its response to the growing pandemic.

“For now, we will monitor how the current transmissions go and review whether we should reconsider”

Key to South Korea’s success in getting the coronavirus under control is its robust programme of testing and tracing, which experts believe could provide a model for other countries to restart their economies while keeping their citizens safe. Kim also said today there will be no return to social distancing while authorities can trace at least 95% of infections.

According to the Guardian, “by the time the World Health Organization issued its plea in mid-March for countries to “test, test, test”, South Korea had spent weeks doing just that, quickly developing the capability to test an average of 12,000 people – and sometimes as many as 20,000 – a day at hundreds of drive-through and walk-in testing centres. The mobile centres conducted the tests free of charge within 10 minutes, with the results were sent to people’s phones within 24 hours. By mid-March more than 270,000 people had been tested.”

Outside Korea, several European countries and US states have set a timetable for reopening entertainment and hospitality venues, although all still include some form of social distancing – Dutch proposals to allow venues a maximum of 30 people, including staff, provided they remain 1.5 metres apart, for example, have been dismissed as especially unworkable.

The Event Safety Alliance, which recently released a ‘reopening guide’ for entertainment venues, describes how some countries are “using contract tracing to enable health authorities to track who has been to an event or location if an outbreak flares up. They are then contacted and instructed to seek medical advice.”

Privacy advocates in Japan and South Korea have been critical of those countries’ use of emergency powers to snoop on citizens

This enables venues to reopen more safely, knowing that any outbreaks can be isolated and contained, though only South Korea and, to a lesser extent, Australia (which is tracking the virus using its COVIDsafe app), currently have the capability to do so, according to the guide. Additionally, “some societies are more tolerant of the perceived impact on personal liberty than others”, it warns.

Privacy advocates in Japan and South Korea have been critical of those countries’ use of emergency powers to snoop on citizens, according to the Japan Times, where virus carriers’ contacts are “aggressively traced” using tools like GPS tracking on smartphones, credit card records and CCTV. “People’s movements before they were diagnosed are published on websites and relayed via smartphone alerts to inform others whether they have crossed paths with a carrier,” the paper adds.

While Korea-style contact tracing could provide the answer to reopening venues safely – and when faced with a choice between privacy invading contact tracing and socially distanced shows with 30 people, the latter arguably looks more appealing – not everyone is convinced.

Germany – whose testing and tracking regime is the envy of much of Europe – has warned it could reimpose lockdown after a rise in Covid-19 cases last week. “We always have to be aware that we are still at the beginning of the pandemic,” said chancellor Angela Merkel, “and there’s still a long way in dealing with this virus in front of us.”


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