Restart-19 results: “Events could take place in a pandemic”
Results from Restart-19, a scientific experiment that aimed to show how coronavirus travels at indoor events, have today been published.
The experiment saw scientists invite thousands of volunteers to take part in a concert at the Quarterback Immobilien Arena in Leipzig, Germany on 22 August with singer Tim Bendzko.
During the concert, airflow simulations were conducted in conjunction with an engineering company and scientific data was collected by each participant’s contact tracer.
The overview of the key results from the experiment shows that the total number of contacts lasting several minutes is relatively low during the event and can be considerably reduced through hygiene concepts, and that a higher number of contacts occur during admission to the venue and in the breaks.
The scientists also found that poor ventilation can significantly increase the number of people exposed to a risk of infection, but if hygiene concepts are adhered to, additional impacts on the pandemic as a whole are low to very low.
The research project, which is a partially publicly funded, was run by Dr Stefan Moritz of University Medicine Halle (Saale) at the University Hospital in Halle (Universitätsmedizin, UKH), who deemed the experiment “an absolute success”.
“The results are consistent with our hypothesis that the contacts that do occur at an event do not involve all participants,” says Dr Moritz. “Therefore, events could also take place under specific conditions during a pandemic. The most important finding for us was understanding how crucial it is to have good ventilation technology. This is key to lowering the risk of infection.”
“Together with this engineering company, we recreated the entire Quarterback Immobilien Arena as a computer model and divided it into small cubes. We then simulated how different ventilation scenarios affected the distribution of the aerosol particles,” Moritz explains.
“Contacts that occur at an event do not involve all participants, so events could take place under specific conditions during a pandemic”
“We developed a detailed epidemiological simulation model in order to investigate the effects of transmission on the spread of the epidemic throughout the population as a whole,” explains professor Rafael Mikolajczyk from the Institute of Medical Epidemiology, Biometrics and Informatics in the University of Halle’s Faculty of Medicine. “We drew on existing models of pandemic planning and adapted them accordingly.”
Based on their findings, the researchers have recommended that event venues provide adequate ventilation and a regular exchange of air and that an evaluation system for suitable ventilation technology is formed.
The scientists have also recommended that hygiene concepts remain for as long as the pandemic persists including compulsory use of face masks in the arena.
Results from the survey conducted after the experiment showed that 90% of the study participants are not put off by the idea of wearing a mask and are willing to continue to do so in order to be able to experience such events again.
Researchers have also suggested that the seating plan and thus the number of guests should be adjusted based on incidence and the venue should be accessed through several entrances to direct visitor flows. While, waiting areas should be moved outdoors and during the event, food should be eaten in the seating areas to prevent crowding and long periods of contact at snack bars, they add.
Minister of Science, professor Armin Willingmann, says: “The corona pandemic is currently intensifying throughout Germany. This reality makes what we learn from Restart-19 all the more valuable. The events industry, in particular, must be equipped with the knowledge and strategies it needs to be able to responsibly organise concerts, festivals and trade fairs despite corona.
“The researchers at University Medicine Halle have done real pioneering work here on behalf of the states of Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony – even though the road to a new normal is very long.”
Restart-19: “Heroes” simulate Covid-19 spread at test show
The scientists behind the Restart-19 project, who invited thousands of volunteers to take part in three experimental concerts in Germany on Saturday, say the study should provide valuable data about the Covid-19 infection risks posed by large indoor events.
Fifteen hundred people took part in the experiment, held at the Quarterback Immobilien Arena (12,200-cap.) in Leipzig on 22 August as part of Restart-19, a partially publicly funded research project run by the University Hospital in Halle (Universitätsmedizin, UKH).
As IQ reported in July, the study comprised three concerts by singer Tim Bendzko: one with no social distancing at all, pre-coronavirus style; one with “optimised hygiene measures”, such as more entrances/exits and some distance between concertgoers; and one with full social distancing, with attendees seated 1.5 metres apart.
“We are very satisfied. The data acquisition went very well”
While the UKH team initially planned for the experiment to involve 4,000 people, data from the 1,500 volunteers – each of whom was equipped with a tracker device – provided enough information to “work with very well”, says Restart-19 head Dr Stefan Moritz.
For all three scenarios, which took place over ten hours, attendees (who were tested for Covid-19 in advance, and had their temperatures checked prior to entry) were asked to wear a face covering and use hand sanitiser containing fluorescent dye. The dye-laced disinfectant then marked “high-touch” areas when the audience simulated going to the loo or visiting F&B vendors between shows, as requested by Moritz’s team.
“We are very satisfied,” he said on Saturday. “The data acquisition went very well, so we have good quality data; the mood is great; and we are extremely please with how disciplined people have been in wearing the mask and using the [hand] disinfectant.”
Other tests included the use smoke machines to reproduce the spread of aerosols in an indoor arena environment (it is believed the coronavirus can survive in the air for up to three hours) and the simulation of public transport traffic to and from the venue.
“We are excited to see what will come of the study,” says Matthias Kölmel, managing director of arena operator ZSL Betreibergesellschaft, who nevertheless emphasises that “this is not a panacaea.”
In Saxony, of which Leipzig is the most populous city, events of up to 1,000 people are currently permitted with social distancing. In Germany as a whole, a federal ban on non-distanced large-scale gatherings is in place until at least November.
Bendzko says he hopes the Restart-19 show can help speed along the return of “real concerts”, for the sake of Germany’s love music industry.
“I hope that the results will help us to play real concerts in front of an audience again soon,” he says, adding that the vast majority of people involved in music and events work in the background, rather than on stage. “We are approaching a major disaster here and we urgently need to find solutions.”
Karsten Günther of SC DHfK Handball, which plays in the arena, pays tribute to the 1,500 people who gave up their Saturdays to be part of the experiment. “[They stood] in the pouring rain outside the venue, waiting to be admitted, then spent ten hours with us during the day, going in and out three times in the heat of the midsummer,” he says. “These are our heroes.”
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.