Crowds at the pilot music festival in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham at the weekend. Leon Farrell/

Festivals, football and foreign travel: how successful have large-scale test events been in Europe?

There have been mixed results since mass gatherings have returned on the continent.

A PILOT MUSIC festival attended by thousands of people in Dublin was hailed as a success at the weekend, with just one concertgoer receiving a positive antigen test on arrival.

This person later returned a negative PCR test.

Results from similar pilot events in other European countries have indicated that live entertainment, with certain measures in place, can be done safely.

Governments are keen to get the entertainment industry, which has been one of the worst-hit by the pandemic, back in business, but the Delta variant has put a summer of concerts and sports events at risk.

And while well-organised tests events with strictly enforced public health measures have proven successful, real-world application of these measures has not been foolproof. 


In the UK, the government decided to press ahead with its pilot events, despite the threat of the Delta variant and another coronavirus wave. 

Most recently, three test events were run at Wembley Stadium, including England’s two domestic football cup finals.

A total of 30,000 people attended, with just eight positive results reported. However, just 15% of attendees returned PCR tests taken both before and after the pilot events.

These matches were part of a pilot event programme consisting of nine gatherings.

Some 28 cases were recorded among the 58,000 total attendees at the nine pilot events.

Of those 28 cases, 11 were identified as potentially infectious at an event, with the 17 others identified as potentially infected at or around the time of an event.

Circus nightclub in Liverpool, which hosted nearly 7,000 people over two nights, saw ten cases, while the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield saw six cases recorded.

The Brit Awards at London’s O2 Arena hosted 3,500 guests, of which none later tested positive.

An outdoor festival pilot at Sefton Park in Liverpool attended by more than 6,000 people, who did not wear masks, had two positivecases, as did a five-kilometre run at Kempton Park in southeast England from 2,000 participants.

All of these events took place in April and May, a period of “low prevalence” of the virus.

A second phase of pilot events was completed this month, including the group stage Euro 2020 matches at Wembley, the England versus New Zealand cricket test match in Birmingham, and the Royal Ascot horse race meeting. Results of these events are still being collected.


On the continent, one of the first high-profile pilot events was a concert that took place in Barcelona.

The Prima-CoV study in December 2020 involved 1,047 participants who were screened before the concert and were required to have a negative antigen test. Half of this group were allowed inside while the other half served as a control group.

Those inside were given a certified N95 cloth mask and mask-wearing was mandatory, though no physical distancing was required and people were allowed to sing and dance.

All participants had to return after eight days to get a PCR test. None of the participants who entered the venue returned a positive test result, though in the control group two people were infected.

At the end of last month, the first of three pilot club events was held at the Hard Rock Hotel in Ibiza, with 1,500 guests in attendance.

All guests had to either be fully vaccinated or provide a negative antigen or PCR test to gain access. There was also follow-ups to ensure that none of the participants have Covid symptoms. Results from this pilot have not yet been reported.  


In May, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation organised two events; one a seated concert at a theatre with a masked audience at 50% capacity (190 people) and the other an outdoor performance with 256 people, all of whom were wearing masks.

There were no positive results from the first event and just one positive case reported from the second, though this was a member of the technical staff and not one of the audience participants. 

The Netherlands

After postponing last year’s Eurovision Song Contest due to the pandemic, the event returned this year, hosted by the Netherlands.

Due to health protocols, a maximum of 3,500 audience members were allowed to attend each of the events. All audience members had to have a negative Covid-19 test 24 hours before entry and there was regular testing of the crew and the contestants. 

Audience members had to wear masks when moving from their seats and no standing was allowed. 

Fewer than 50 of the 29,875 visitors to the nine Eurovision Song Contest shows were later found to be infected with the coronavirus. 

Real-world results

Although a number of countries have managed to demonstrate how music and sports events and club settings could be operated safely, real-world application of the learnings from pilots may be more challenging. 

At the end of last month, the Dutch government relaxed most coronavirus restrictions, allowing clubs and concert halls to reopen under a ‘test for entry’ programme. 

Public health officials are now dealing with an outbreak linked to a nightclub in the east of the country, with 165 of the 600 guests reportedly testing positive since attending on the same night.

Public Health Scotland also revealed last week that nearly 2,000 people who travelled from Scotland to London for Euro 2020 events attended while they were infectious.

At least 300 Finnish fans who went to Russia to support their national team contracted Covid-19.

The World Health Organization has warned that the mixing of crowds in Euro 2020 host cities, as well as travel and easing of social restrictions, had driven up the number of new cases by 10%. 

“We need to look much beyond just the stadia themselves,” Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO’s European office, said recently when asked about recommendations in the face of rising cases in London and Saint Petersburg.

“What we need to look at is around the stadia. How are people getting there? Are they travelling in large crowded convoys of buses? Are they taking individual measures when they are doing that?” Smallwood said.

She also added that it was also important to look at what was happening after the games, for instance if fans gathered in crowded bars.

“Should this mixing happen, there will be cases,” she said.

The WHO also called for vigilance around all major summer gatherings, not just around football games.

“What we know is that in a context of increasing transmission, large mass gatherings can act as amplifiers in terms of transmission,” Smallwood said.

- With reporting from AFP.

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