Music fans in Barcelona hugged, danced and sang along at a sold-out rock concert on Saturday night after taking rapid COVID-19 tests in a trial that could revive the live music industry in Spain and beyond.
Some 5,000 fans at the show for Spanish indie band Love of Lesbian had to wear masks but social distancing was not required in the Palau Sant Jordi arena.
“It was spectacular. We felt safe at all times. We were in the front row and it was something we’d missed a lot,” said publicist Salvador, 29, after the show. “We are very proud to have had the chance to take part in this. We hope it’ll be the first of many.”
In surreal scenes after a year of social distancing, fans danced up close to one another, but the sea of faces covered in masks showed that things were not quite back to normal.
The health controls at the entrance also delayed the start of the concert, but could not dampen the celebratory spirit.
“Welcome to one of the most exciting concerts of our lives!” lead singer Santi Balmes told the crowd to a roar of cheers.
“It’s been a year and half since we last set foot on a stage as a band,” he added. “Some of the musicians are crying over here.”
The government-approved concert served as a test for whether similar events will be able to start up again. ”
It will be safer to be in the Palau Sant Jordi than walking down the street,” concert co-organiser Jordi Herreruela told Reuters news agency earlier on Saturday.
Ticket buyers chose between three venues in Barcelona where they could take a quick antigen test on Saturday morning. People with heart disease, cancer, or those who have been in contact with someone infected by COVID-19 in recent weeks were asked not to sign up.
By midday, three out of 2,400 people already screened had tested positive and one had come into contact with a positive case, said Dr Josep Maria Libre, a doctor who oversaw the testing. They were unable to attend the concert and would get a refund.
Attendees said they received their antigen test results in 10 to 15 minutes via an app on their phones. The test and a mask were included in the ticket price.
Organisers said it was the first commercial event with an audience that big held in Europe during the pandemic.
The concert was backed by local authorities and by experts of Barcelona’s The Fight AIDS and Infectious Diseases Foundation, which also organised a case study around a smaller concert of 500 people in December. They said that the results of that preliminary case study showed that pre-screening with antigen tests and the use of face masks succeeded in preventing infections inside the concert despite there being no social distancing rules.
“This is another small step towards being able to hold concerts and cultural events” during the pandemic, said Dr Boris Revollo, the virologist involved in the design of the health protocols.
In addition to being 10 times larger than the concert in December, this time there was no control group maintained outside the concert hall.
Instead, concertgoers agreed public health authorities can inform Revollo’s team if they come down with the coronavirus in the weeks after the concert.
With that information, Revollo’s team will do an analysis of infection rates among the 5,000 concertgoers compared with that of the general population to see if there are any discrepancies that could point to contagion at the concert.
For 37-year-old Gerard Munne, it was a release.
“A sensation of freedom, being able to feel the warmth of the people,” he said. “[It was] yesterday’s normality.”