Large music festivals have increased the number of coronavirus cases in Catalonia, according to a study by the Catalan health department. The research found that 2,279 attendees of the festivals Vida, Canet Rock and Cruïlla contracted the virus. This figure is 76% more than the cases recorded in a control group and 58% more than what was expected, according to the analysis. The Catalan secretary of public health, Carme Cabezas, admitted on Wednesday that music events “have had an effect” on coronavirus transmission. But she added: “With 842 more cases than what was expected, we can’t say they have been superspreader events.”
A lot of attention has been paid to these large festivals as they took place in early July, just as Catalonia was grappling with the fifth coronavirus wave and contagion rates were already at high-risk levels. When Canet Rock and Vida took place between June 30 and July 4, the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants was at 689, and the R number – i.e. how many other people an infected person passes the virus on to – was at 2.92, far above what was recommended by health authorities (below one). When the music festival Cruïlla was held on July 10 and 11, the incidence rate had shot up to more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 and the R number remained high at 1.37, meaning for every 100 infected individuals, another 137 would get the virus.
To attend the concerts, festival-goers were required to present a negative coronavirus test and wear a face mask at all times. But photos from the events showed that not everyone was following this rule. After the concerts, Catalan health chief Josep Maria Argimon admitted that they shouldn’t have been allowed to go ahead. “I have been self-critical. We don’t know if these events have been superspreaders or not yet, but they did convey an idea of normality that was not what we had to convey at that moment,” he told EL PAÍS before the results of the study were released.
The investigation from the Catalan health department studied how many positive cases were detected among the festival-goers 15 days after the three large events. The nearly 50,000 people who attended the music concerts were compared to a control group with the same breakdown of age, sex, residence and immunity during the days the events took place. The study found that 466 attendees of Vida, 956 of Carnet Rock and 857 of Cruïlla tested positive for the coronavirus in the two weeks following the concerts. In the control group, the number of cases detected on the same dates of the events was 197, 525 and 571, respectively. The study expected that a maximum of 1,437 infections would be recorded after the music festivals, but this was exceeded by 842, bringing the total number of cases to 2,279. “It’s above what would be desirable. It could have contributed to a rise in cases, but in a limited way,” said Cabezas.
The organization of the three music festivals was based on the clinical trials that were done during pilot programs, such as a concert by the band Love of Lesbian in March, which was found not to be a superspreader event. But these results came from controlled trials that are not always comparable to real-life situations, said Cabezas, who pointed out that they were also carried out before the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus became dominant in Spain.
The health official also said a small percentage of the festival-goers – 0.45% or 271 people – attended one of the concerts despite testing positive for the coronavirus beforehand.
English version by Melissa Kitson.