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Finnish events industry pins summer hopes on rapid testing

While awaiting an official exit strategy, the events sector has started plans to pilot rapid testing of festival-goers.

Yleisöä esiintymislavan edessä.
Early summer festivals have already been cancelled in Finland, but events later in the summer may still be held if coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Image: David Pearson / AOP

Most people in Finland are keenly awaiting information about how they will be able to spend their summer. One question high on the list is whether public events, such as festivals can be organised and held, even on a reduced scale.

Even before the government has finalised an exit strategy, the events industry has been working on its own plan for summer activities which relies on the use of rapid coronavirus testing.

The concept is simple. Members of the public would be allowed into events after providing a negative result to an on-site test.

The practicality of such a system is to be evaluated with pilot events designed by event organisers in cooperation with researchers and testing professionals.

Maria Sahlstedt, Director of Communications & Public Affairs at Event Industries of Finland, was unable to tell Yle when these pilots may be launched, however, as permission is still needed from various authorities.

The introduction of rapid tests at events is not without some snags, though. Currently, coronavirus testing can only be performed by healthcare professionals and testing resources in general are insufficient to allowing testing to be expanded to any major degree.

Story continues after the photo.

Rock in the city -festivaali Porissa elokuussa.
The Rock in the City festival was held in Pori last August with coronavirus security measures in place. Image: Joni Haavisto / AOP

Rapid testing would likely work best for smaller events.

"Tens of thousands of people come to stadium-class concerts, so on-site testing would not be an option," Sahlstedt points out.

According to Sahlstedt, the aim of the pilot events is to study more than just how coronavirus testing could be used. There has been research carried out in Finland on how the virus spreads in restaurant settings, and the same, she says, should be done for public events.

"This would provide preparation not only for next summer, but also for the future. We are trying to study event security under emergency conditions and how we can better prepare for the risks. If the pandemic strikes again, we will have ready-made solutions so that the event sector no longer needs to be so completely closed down," Sahlstedt explains.

Coronavirus passport one option

She believes that the most effective solution for the safe organisation of events would be an officially approved coronavirus passport. One is to be introduced in Denmark at the end of May, and a passport there will be issued if a person has contracted and recovered from the disease, or has been vaccinated. Following a negative test, the passport is valid for three days.

"A coronavirus passport would serve a wide range of sectors in addition to events, such as tourism, restaurants and transport," notes Sahlstedt.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL has declined to comment at this stage on the prospect of introducing a coronavirus passport as the government's exit plan has not yet been finalized.

The Finnish government's decision on opening the events sector has lagged behind Denmark, for example. The events industry sees this as a threat.

"Finnish event audiences may travel to neighbouring countries next summer if large events can be held there safely. At the same time, it will become more difficult to attract international performers and events to Finland," says Sahlstedt.

A working group convened by Minister of Science and Culture Annika Saarikko (Cen) has, however, already drafted a plan on how public events could be safely organised in Finland. It is included in the exit strategy currently being considered by the government.

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