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German scientists run COVID-19 concert experiment

August 22, 2020

Some 2,000 people attended a concert in the city of Leipzig organized by scientists seeking to study the risk of virus transmission during large events. There are high hopes as large entertainment venues remain shut.

Coronavirus concert in Leipzig
Image: Getty Images/S. Gallup

Scientists from the German University of Halle observed conditions on Saturday at an experimental concert in the eastern city of Leipzig, where they hope to learn more about the risk of infection at large events.

The study comes as events and large gatherings remain banned in Germany until at least November. Most concert organizers and entertainment industry staff have seen their work dry up in recent months.

Popular German singer Tim Bendzko volunteered to play three separate concerts over the course of the day, which would test different configurations of the event.

Read more: Coronavirus concerts: Rap fans watch concert from plexiglass cubes

Chasing aerosols and contact tracing

The experiment involved 2,000 concertgoers, who were mostly young, healthy and not belonging to any high-risk group.

Attendees had to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to the concert and their temperature was taken upon arrival at the venue. They wore FFP2 face masks during the event and were fitted with contact-tracing devices, which would complement sensors on the ceiling of the venue that collected data on their movements.

Read more: Coronavirus: Study reveals how most Germans get infected

"We want to study how much contact the participants have with one another during the concert - which is actually still not clear," research lead Stefan Moritz said.

Fluorescent disinfectant was also distributed. "After the event, we can see with ultraviolet lamps which surfaces glow in particular, meaning they were touched particularly often," Moritz added.

Halle scientists also tracked the movement of aerosols; the smallest particles in the air that can carry the virus.

Attendees at a coronavirus concert experiment
Participants had to wear masks throughout the concertImage: Getty Images/S. Gallup

Three concert scenarios

Scientists ran three scenarios at each concert. The first scenario was meant to resemble concerts before the pandemic, without any coronavirus measures.

The second scenario involved viewers following health and safety guidelines, while the third scenario involved a reduced number of attendees who were kept 1.5 meters apart from each other.

Read more: As Germany expands COVID-19 travel tests, politicians debate cost

Data collected on Saturday will be fed into a mathematical model, which should help scientists evaluate the risks of the virus spreading in a large concert venue. The results are expected this fall.

The aim of the experiments is to find out whether concerts and other large events could be allowed to resume while avoiding high infection risks.

"It's all about taking an evidence-based approach," said Michael Gekle, dean of the medical faculty at Halle University.

Enforcing corona rules in Berlin

jcg/mm (AFP, dpa)