5,000 fans attend Spanish gig for Covid-19 trial in Barcelona

Musicians on stage, spotlights flooding the arena and 5,000 fans dancing ecstatically: live music was back in Barcelona on Saturday, as a clinical trial sought pandemic-safe ways to celebrate mass events.

5,000 fans attend Spanish gig for Covid-19 trial in Barcelona
Attendees underwent Covid-19 Rapid Antigen Tests and are required to wear face masks but the social distancing rule will not be complied as part of a study on virus propagation. Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP

“This is for one night only, so enjoy it,” said a presenter at Saint Jordi Arena just minutes before the start of the gig by one of Spain’s most popular bands, indie rockers Love of Lesbian.

Ahead of the party, everyone underwent mass screening and antigen tests, donning FPP2 surgical masks to attend the gig which comes after an unprecedented year of confinement, social distancing and very little social interaction.

“I’m so very, very excited. It’s been 18 months since we’ve been on stage and one of us up here is in tears!” shouted lead singer Santi Balmes after the first song which was appropriately called “Nobody in the streets”.

And his euphoria was shared by the audience.

Spectators attend a rock music concert by Spanish group Love of Lesbian at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona on Saturday. Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP

“It’s incredible, so exciting. We’d forgotten what it was like to be around other people, it’s as if it was my first-ever gig,” said Jordi Sanz who like everyone was in the mosh pit in front of the stage as all stands were left empty.

“We really wanted to do something different, to take a step towards normality,” said Marina Crespo, 25, who in spite of the security measures was trying “not get too close to people, to keep a bit of distance”.

Even so, the atmosphere was like travelling back to a time before the pandemic with excited crowds dancing, hugging each other and belting out songs at the top of their voices, or just drinking beers at the bar.

Nightclubs as testing centres

Behind the event is a group of music and festival promoters as well as a local hospital who say the safety measures, which include a special ventilation system, make it a safer space than inside a private home.

During the morning, the dance floors at three long-closed Barcelona nightclubs were transformed into makeshift field hospitals with nurses in blue carrying out antigen tests inside white canvas enclosures — and the results back in 10 minutes.

Health workers collect swab samples for Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for the Covid-19 coronavirus from people who later attended a rock music concert in Barcelona. Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP

When a person tested negative, the entry pass downloaded on an app on their phone was validated. The only other requirement was that they wear an FPP2 mask while inside the venue.

“We expect it to be completely safe. Over the next 14 days we will look at how many of the audience test positive for Covid and will report back,” explained Josep Maria Llibre, a doctor at the Germans Trias i Pujol hospital just north of Barcelona.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The aim is “to discover a way in which we can coexist with Covid and hold concerts which are completely safe,” said Ventura Barba, executive director of Barcelona’s Sonar festival which is one of the organisers.

“We hope it will be a turning point,” he told AFP.

This week, Sonar said its hugely popular electronic and dance music festival would be cancelled for the second year running because of the Covid crisis.

“The pandemic has been a nightmare for everyone, but for the music industry in particular,” he said.

According to a study published by Spain’s Music Federation, the European music industry lost 76 percent of its earnings in 2020.

The tickets for Saturday’s concert sold out within just a few hours. Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP

For Love of Lesbian’s lead singer, Saturday’s gig was aimed at showing those in the music industry there was a way forward.

“It is creating a hole in the tunnel so the world of culture can see some light, or at least a possible way of doing things,” Balmes told AFP.

Although the pandemic forced the band to delay the release of their latest album by eight months, they feel luckier than most, given that many musicians  are “having a really bad time and even taking food parcels because they’ve got no income”.

The tickets for Saturday’s concert sold out within just a few hours.

“It was a real buzz but it’s logical: we’ve been living in a time of restraint and everyone’s had their handbrake on,” he said.

“We all need to let off a bit of steam and get back to our old lives.”

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Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Spanish health experts have advised the government that the use of masks should no longer be obligatory on public transport, but no concrete date has yet been set.

Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Health experts who advise the Spanish Ministry of Health have said that masks should no longer be mandatory on public transport, but with the caveat that the government should first wait and observe the epidemiological situation in China, which has experienced a surge in case numbers since it abandoned its strict ‘Zero Covid’ strategy at the end of 2022, following widespread civil unrest.

The use of masks on public transport has now been the norm in Spain for almost three years, since the start of the pandemic. 

Speaking to Ser Canarias, Darias said: “We are getting closer and closer [to the end of having to wear a mask], but we will have to see how things evolve in order to make that decision; obviously the epidemiological situation is getting better and better, but we have to see how the issue of China evolves”. 

Reports in the Spanish press suggest some kind of agreement was made during a meeting between the government and the experts in December that masks would no longer be compulsory after assessing the situation in China, however, there is still no fixed date.

Back in October 2022, Spain’s ‘Emergency Unit’ suggested that mask rules would not be reviewed until March 2023 at the earliest, but more recently it said that it does not seem necessary to wait for March to remove the mask rule. 

According to recent Ministry of Health figures, just 2.79 percent of hospital beds in Spain are taken up by Covid-19 patients.

READ ALSO: Face masks to remain mandatory on public transport in Spain until March 2023

The use of masks indoors in Spain ceased to be mandatory on April 20th, 2022, after almost two years, however, they have remained mandatory in hospitals, pharmacies and, crucially, also on buses, metro, trains, planes and taxis.

While the mask rules have been strictly enforced in some places in Spain such as Seville and Valencia, in other cities such as Barcelona, many people refuse to wear them, despite the regulations still officially being in place. 

READ ALSO: Spain now requires Covid certificates for arrivals from China

In China, figures suggest that almost 60,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 in a single month amid the spike in cases following the end of the country’s draconian restrictions. In response, Spain reintroduced health control checks for travellers arriving from China. 

It seems that Darias and the Spanish government are waiting to see how the situation plays out in China first, but all the indications and expert advice seems to suggest that masks will no longer be mandatory in public transport sometime very soon.