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Any hope for summer festivals? Not likely, say experts

The government is to decide on summer events before the end of April.

Ilosaarirockin yleisöä
Ilosaarirock in eastern Finland attracts more than 60,000 people each July. Image: Jami Ivanoff / AOP

Large public summer events with thousands of attendees seem like an impossible thought as much of Finland’s social, cultural and economic life is closed due to the coronavirus epidemic – but no official decisions to ban them have yet been made.

Organisers of many events are hanging in limbo while awaiting decisions from authorities.

“Our staff is working, but we’re trying to get by frugally. We’re trying to put off expensive decisions and waiting to see whether festivals can be organised, or how this summer is going to go,” says Petri Varis, producer of the Ilosaarirock festival in Joensuu, Eastern Finland.

Ilosaarirock is scheduled for mid-July. The three-day event usually attracts more than 60,000 people, mostly starring Finnish pop and rock acts.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin told Yle last week that the government will decide on a summer festival policy before the end of April.

High risk of infections at public events

Banning gatherings of more than 500 people was one of the first measures announced on March 12 to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Later the maximum size was lowered to 10 people.

Experts say that allowing public events this summer would not be sensible.

“Large public events are highly conducive to the spread of respiratory infections. People are often terribly close to each other. One should be extremely critical of public events this spring and summer,” says Ilkka Julkunen, Professor of Virology at the University of Turku.

He notes that one virus carrier could infect dozens of other people at such an event. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said on Sunday that many coronavirus infections in Finland have been linked to public events.

Professor Olli Vapalahti, head of the viral zoonoses research unit at the University of Helsinki, says there are plenty of examples from around the world of individuals infected with coronavirus spreading it to many others at public events.

“A mass gathering can become a centrifuge that spins off multiple infections. I’d be quite pessimistic about the possibility of arranging these kinds of events this summer,” Vapalahti tells Yle.

Public events likely last to re-open

Yle has learned that the cabinet will receive the first estimates on Wednesday as to when and in what order restrictions should be lifted. However it remains unclear whether ministers will make any decisions on the timetable on Wednesday.

Last week the European Commission recommended to EU member states that restrictions on mass gatherings such as festivals should be the last to be lifted.

Organisers of summer events in Finland hope that the government makes clear, long-term decisions. Further short-term restrictions, with possible extensions up in the air, would add to the uncertainty and financial distress of the sector.

“Festivals are massive machines, and we have to be able to make decisions in time – otherwise they will end up costing us much, much more,” says Varis.

Cancelling a major festival like Ilosaarirock will result in losses of hundreds of thousands of euros, he says.

“There’ll be massive expenses in any case,” says Varis, “and the closer we get to the festival date, the bigger they’ll be.”

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