Dutch people party like it’s 2019
The first is in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, a beautifully landscaped green space in the Dutch capital. Hundreds of people gather to celebrate the unusually warm days of February.
“It is not allowed, but we will do it anyway,” a young woman told Dutch television. “This cannot continue. They can’t leave us at home. We are depressing.
Video shooting by a local Amsterdam news network at Vondelpark showed the euphoria of young people who, as another woman put it, were “fed up” with periods.
The police are cracking down. The mayor is closing all entrances to the park, except two, so that the police can monitor all arrivals.
The second crowd is only a few miles away, a few days later, at the Ziggo Dome concert hall. Hundreds of people gather inside to hear folk singer André Hazes, Jr., hum his cheesy songs and sing along.
This time, there is no repression. In fact, this time it has the government’s explicit approval to ignore the 30-person limit on the few types of indoor gatherings allowed.
Everyone present tested negative for the coronavirus no more than 48 hours in advance. They all have electronic tags to track contacts. This is part of a government-backed experiment to see how the events industry can get back on its feet in a country that, like much of continental Europe, has been slow to roll out vaccinations.
Happy Guinea Pigs
Eight first rallies that took place over the past month were the result of months-long discussions between the Dutch government and a group of event planners who came together to form the “Field Lab”.
The researchers designed a series of events – from dance festivals and a sit-down concert to a football game – to study participants’ behavior and track any possible infections.
“Until now, guinea pigs have been very happy to participate in the research,” said Andreas Voss, professor of infection control at Radboud University.
Although they have yet to release conclusive results, Voss said that by comparing the data from spectators to that of the general population, they believe that attending a well-regulated event, divided into bubbles, with a test PCR negative, is no more risky than going about your normal daily business in the Netherlands.
“So far, the risk is generally lower than it would be untested, outside of the event,” Voss said. “We certainly have some promising results, which show that in many of the situations that we created, the risk in the special situation was less than or equal to that at home.”
The Dutch Minister of Health agrees. Earlier this month, he called the initial results “really encouraging.”
Earlier this month, the European Commission unveiled its plan for a ‘digital green certificate’, or vaccination passport, to allow those who have been vaccinated to prove their status. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said such a plan “could be useful in the future”.
The risk, of course, was not just for those who witnessed the events, but for anyone they might come into contact with afterwards. Organizers asked attendees to limit contact with anyone at risk in the days following the event, and they had to undergo a second test five days later.
Field Lab says they detected 67 positive cases of coronavirus among contestants for the event, who were refused entry. So far, only five of the more than 6,000 participants have tested positive in this post-event swab, they say, and researchers cannot be sure this infection results from attending a Field Lab event.
Part of letting go also meant giving up the guidelines established for the participants. Once the beer started to flow, the masks were removed and the social distancing markers ignored.
But that’s hardly surprising, Voss said, and it’s not a bad thing. “We didn’t influence them in any way, we didn’t correct them during the event, because we want to know what’s going on in real life.
“It is true that during the dance event and the concert, the masks flew off quite quickly,” he said, but during the theater, business conference and football experiences, a- he said, more than 94% wore masks.
Indeed, only certain participants in the concerts were invited to wear masks. Field Lab created six different bubbles, with strict conditions. The lax ones only had 50 people, didn’t need face masks, and had an open bar throughout the concert. The strictest had 250 people, required face masks at all times, encouraged people to stay 1.5 meters from each other.