In the NRC we read that on Monday, February 15, the first national experiments to organize corona-proof events will start. The beginning to meet again, what are we looking forward to that moment!
Visitors are tested, must stay in a bubble and their behavior will be analyzed. An event with 500 guests where the 1.5 meters are released. It sounds unreal in the middle of this heavy lockdown, but it is exactly what will happen this Monday at the Back to Live congress in the Beatrix Theater in Utrecht. To keep it safe, a series of precautions have been taken: everyone present has had to take a PCR test beforehand, be able to show a health certificate and everyone's temperature is measured upon entry. Rapid tests are also carried out at the door at random.
The sector has been waiting a long time for the field labs to start. Last spring, Marc Elbertse, one of the initiators and founder of event builder The Support Group, contacted politicians. "Instead of going to the Malieveld, we started thinking about solutions." The events sector spoke with various ministers, including former Minister of Economic Affairs Eric Wiebes (VVD) and outgoing State Secretary Mona Keijzer (CDA). Concrete plans were in place this autumn, and four ministries considered it.
Still, it would take months before the cabinet gave the final green light. When the Netherlands went into lockdown again in December, there was a new postponement. "There was a lack of guts and the image was in the way," says Riemer Rijpkema of Eventplatform, the association of corporate events. "You are going to organize something for 500 people, while the pubs and restaurants are closed." Approval came last month, despite concerns about the British variant of the virus. At Fieldlab, the organization that organizes the experiments of the same name, they now see a different attitude in the government, says program manager Pieter Lubberts. "The look to the future will outweigh the fears that exist."
Fieldlab's principal investigator is professor of infection prevention Andreas Voss (Radboud University). Voss is also a member of the Outbreak Management Team that advises the cabinet on corona policy, so he understands the government's concerns. Originally, the Field Labs would only take place when the Netherlands was back at the "Vigilant" risk level, with few infections. Nevertheless, he thinks that, with a risk level of "Very serious", it can be done responsibly through the use of tests. "You always have a risk, unless you sit on the couch at home." Voss hopes that the Netherlands does not think that the start of the Fieldlabs means that things will now be relaxed very quickly. "Our research is the beginning of that wish."
The aim of the studies is to map how people behave at different events and what the contamination risks are. In the current roadmap with measures, all events are lumped together, but there are likely to be major differences. "You expect more contacts when people keep moving than when they are seated," says program manager Lubberts. That is why four types of events are investigated: "indoor passive" (conference or classical concert), "indoor active" (concert Ziggo Dome) and two types of "outdoor active" (seating events such as a football match and events with multiple stages such as festivals).
The participants of this Monday's Back to Live conference will receive a tag that registers for how long and with whom they have contact. There are three bubbles of 250, 200 and 50 people, each with their own entrance, cloakroom, foyer for food and drink and toilet group. In each bubble a different setting is explored: one group is sitting together at tables, the other group is seated. One group wears a mouth mask while walking, the next bubble has cough screens. In addition to the data provided by the tag, video images of the conference are also analyzed. People are asked in advance to behave as they normally would, and the researchers then examine whether the different settings influence their behavior.
By analyzing the data from the various field labs, Voss hopes to gain as specific insight as possible into the contact moments. “If you are at a football game with 1,050 people, how many others are you in contact with at all and when? And if you are at a dance event, how many people have you been in close contact with for more than 15 minutes? ” With the data, TU Delft is developing a risk model that must prescribe specific measures for each type of event to keep the risk of contamination low. “Take a cinema as an example,” says Voss. “Perhaps with a low number of infections, all seats can be occupied again, or with an empty seat between households. And that you wear a mouth mask while walking. ”
In addition to the risk of contamination, it is also about how visitors experience the measures, an important element for the events sector. Does a mouth mask give a safe feeling or is it annoying? In preliminary surveys, event attendees said that they don't see anything in wearing a splash mask ("face shield") at a party. "We thought this was a great opportunity that could help, but people said they don't like it," says Voss. "They find mouth masks less disturbing."
Testing everyone on beforehand seems to be the easiest solution for safety, Voss thinks that the quick tests are reliable enough for it. The events industry also thinks rapid tests are becoming “extremely important,” says Lubberts. "Perhaps the most important factor in making more possible in combination with vaccination." At the same time, he does not think it will be possible to test at the door as standard at all events. "That is logistically too complicated and the Netherlands does not have the test capacity for that." Lubberts therefore hopes that the experiments will also yield other measures that help organize an event corona-proof.
After each event, the data is analyzed within approximately two months, after which Fieldlab comes up with its own draft roadmap that is assessed by the cabinet. The sector hopes that large-scale events will be safe again this summer, Ahoy director Jolanda Jansen already dares to dream about the end of May. Then the Eurovision Song Contest will take place in her Ahoy, an event where people usually sing, shout and dance closely packed together. Will that be possible again? No, thinks Jansen, but she does hope that the results of Fieldlab will allow a “substantial audience” in Ahoy. “That is ambitious and realistic.