UNIVERSITY OF HALLE set to study risks related to large scale, arena events :

''WE felt that a study on how cultural events could somehow possibly keep going was a cool idea and that's why we registered,'' say Kira and Felix Stutz.

Spending an entire day in huge crowd in an arena might not seem like the best plan at the moment, especially considering that the number of new coronavirus cases in Germany has surged to more than 2,000 within 24 hours - a high that had not been since the end of April, when strict restrictions were applied throughout the country.

Yet, that is exactly what happened last Saturday in Leipzig, as volunteers lined up early on a rainy morning to take part in study called RESTART-19, which had participants attend a series of concert simulations in three different scenarios, with varying admission and seating plans.

The ambitious event, organized by the University Medical Center of Halle, was held to collect data on a crowd behavior in a and and around the arena to better assess the risk associated with holding large events in the future, Michael Cekle, dean of the medical faculty at Halle University, told DW.

''I hope that the data will contribute to national decisions as to whether an event should take place or not, thanks to reliable predictions as to the risk of additional infections related to such an event,'' he shares.

'Safer than the train'

For Kira and Felix, it felt 'safer than travelling by train through Germany, for instance.''

In fact, the measures applied for the selection of the participants were way stricter than in everyday contexts. Every participant had to test for Covid-19 about 48 hours ahead of of the event and could only participate with a negative result.

People with symptoms or returning from a high-risk country were not allowed to take part.

On the morning off the study, the participants temperature were taken before they were handed FFP2 masks, which block respiratory droplets that could transmit the disease, as well as a contact tracer to track their movements and a bottle of disinfectant to mixed with fluorescent marking spray to determine the surface the surfaces they'd touch throughout the day.

A first step in an unsearched field

Even though there was only a third of the 4,200 volunteers the organizers had initially hoped to get together, study director Stefan Moritz says he was ''very satisfied with the quality of the data they had collected'' throughout the day, from the 1,500 participants tracking devices.

''It's a database with which we will be able to work very well.''

Results will take several weeks to develop based on this data. Findings are to be made public in September, added Moritz.

This is the first study of its kind, according to Michael. Before the pandemic, this was not the type of question researchers were focusing on, and allowing such a large scale event to take place for research purposes was not an option either.

Meanwhile, the organizers have been contacted by three other universities from Australia, Belgium and Denmark that are also undertaking similar projects. ''That will help strengthen their own research,'' says Moritz.

Ahead of the study, which cost nearly Euro 1 million [$1.2 million] critics were quick to dismiss the findings as it does not reflect the real conditions of normal concerts, with people drinking alcohol and singing along without wearing a high-filter mask.

''That's the problem of every study..............that's not the 'real world', explains Michael.

One would indeed have preferred to allow people to drink indoors, he adds, but health authorities wouldn't let them go that far.
''So we faced the option of either remaining without data or having data that doesn't completely reflect the normal context - but it's still halfway there. And halfway is still better than nothing at all,'' he adds.

''We're looking forward to the findings even if we know it will not solve everything,'' says Matthias Kolmel, managing director of the Leipzig Arena. He pointed out that the events industry is the sixth largest in Germany, employing around 1.5 million people and generating direct revenues of Euro130 billion.

''Stadiums were the first to close during the outbreak and will probably be among the last business to reopen,'' he added.

Masks over cars

As the star performer throughout the different concert simulations, German singer Tim Bendzko says he was glad to contribute to hopefully relaunching large events soon.
''We really enjoyed it [performing]. At first, I thought the masks would make it very sterile but it felt surprisingly good.''

And compared to the concerts he has given at drive-in cinemas since lockdown, Tim could definitely read more emotion in the masked concertgoers' eyes than in their cars and blinking lights.

The World Students Society thanks News Desk : The Express Tribune.


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