Covid-19 in Europe

Dutch study provides template for spectators' return to events during Covid-19

Fans inside the Johan Criujff Arena before the Netherlands-Latvia match.
Fans inside the Johan Criujff Arena before the Netherlands-Latvia match. REUTERS - PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW

During a football match between the Netherlands and Latvia in Amsterdam last Saturday, a study was conducted by Fieldlab Events to find out if spectators could safely attend sports matches in stadiums during the Covid-19 pandemic. A model which may be taken up for other events, including the Eurovision song contest 2021 in May.


This was the ninth such study conducted by Fieldlab Events during not just football matches but also music festivals.

According to Professor Andreas Voss of Radboud University, who is the lead researcher of the project, these studies could provide a template for people to attend sports and cultural events during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"Pre-testing and creating bubbles are the major part of our study. In case, someone tests positive for Covid-19 after the event, bubbles allow us to limit the infection and also lets us know who to follow. This would let more people attend events instead of limiting the participants to a certain number," he told RFI. 

The company is now in the process of gathering and analysing the data retrieved from the Netherlands-Latvia football match last Saturday, where 5000 spectators were allowed inside the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam. Everyone admitted had to show a negative test for Covid-19.

It was mandatory to do the rapid antigen test 24 hours before the end of the event which meant a majority of the spectators tested on the same day of the match. 

There were eight different bubbles, or groups of people, that were completely separated from each other, with the biggest bubble consisting of 1000 people. 

"People from different bubbles arrived at different times. They used separate entrances and exits. And people from different bubbles couldn't meet each other. This was to ensure that if there was a problem with someone, it would be limited to the bubble. They were seated as per a chessboard pattern that we had used in earlier events," Voss said.

Mathematical risk model

With the exception of one bubble in which some spectators were allowed to not put the masks on, all the other attendees had to wear masks.

Those who were asked not to wear masks, were also participating in a research project on the production of aerosols. 

All the spectators also had to wear a device that allowed the researchers to track their contacts during the match. "Each device constantly sends signals which are received by other trackers. The time it takes for the signal to hit other devices allows us to calculate the distance between the spectators and the time." 

Researchers were mainly interested in those spectators who were within 1.5 metres of each other. The data collected during the match will go into a mathematical model called risk model. "This allows us to to calculate the risk per hour to a person at the event," Voss said. 

Voss added that they could communicate with all the participants thanks to a special app. "The only way to procure a ticket was through this app. So everyone had to install it. We asked everyone to test on the fifth day after the event." 

If some attendees test positive after the event, the researchers get in touch with them who are then asked to take measures such as self isolation. According to Voss, in the first six events, five people tested positive after the events. 

The Dutch minister for Culture announced on Thursday this week that the Eurovision song contest, scheduled to be held in Rotterdam in 18-22 May would be an appropriate time to carry out similar "tests" in controlled environments.

A maximum of 3,500 spectators would be allowed to watch the nine concerts, with access in exchange for a negative Covid test.

The government has warned however that this plan could be modified depending on the number of infections recorded at the end of April when a final decision will be made.

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