5,000 fans attend Spanish gig for Covid-19 trial in Barcelona

Musicians on stage, spotlights flooding the arena and 5,000 fans dancing ecstatically: live music was back in Barcelona on Saturday, as a clinical trial sought pandemic-safe ways to celebrate mass events.

5,000 fans attend Spanish gig for Covid-19 trial in Barcelona
Attendees underwent Covid-19 Rapid Antigen Tests and are required to wear face masks but the social distancing rule will not be complied as part of a study on virus propagation. Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP

“This is for one night only, so enjoy it,” said a presenter at Saint Jordi Arena just minutes before the start of the gig by one of Spain’s most popular bands, indie rockers Love of Lesbian.

Ahead of the party, everyone underwent mass screening and antigen tests, donning FPP2 surgical masks to attend the gig which comes after an unprecedented year of confinement, social distancing and very little social interaction.

“I’m so very, very excited. It’s been 18 months since we’ve been on stage and one of us up here is in tears!” shouted lead singer Santi Balmes after the first song which was appropriately called “Nobody in the streets”.

And his euphoria was shared by the audience.

Spectators attend a rock music concert by Spanish group Love of Lesbian at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona on Saturday. Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP

“It’s incredible, so exciting. We’d forgotten what it was like to be around other people, it’s as if it was my first-ever gig,” said Jordi Sanz who like everyone was in the mosh pit in front of the stage as all stands were left empty.

“We really wanted to do something different, to take a step towards normality,” said Marina Crespo, 25, who in spite of the security measures was trying “not get too close to people, to keep a bit of distance”.

Even so, the atmosphere was like travelling back to a time before the pandemic with excited crowds dancing, hugging each other and belting out songs at the top of their voices, or just drinking beers at the bar.

Nightclubs as testing centres

Behind the event is a group of music and festival promoters as well as a local hospital who say the safety measures, which include a special ventilation system, make it a safer space than inside a private home.

During the morning, the dance floors at three long-closed Barcelona nightclubs were transformed into makeshift field hospitals with nurses in blue carrying out antigen tests inside white canvas enclosures — and the results back in 10 minutes.

Health workers collect swab samples for Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for the Covid-19 coronavirus from people who later attended a rock music concert in Barcelona. Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP

When a person tested negative, the entry pass downloaded on an app on their phone was validated. The only other requirement was that they wear an FPP2 mask while inside the venue.

“We expect it to be completely safe. Over the next 14 days we will look at how many of the audience test positive for Covid and will report back,” explained Josep Maria Llibre, a doctor at the Germans Trias i Pujol hospital just north of Barcelona.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The aim is “to discover a way in which we can coexist with Covid and hold concerts which are completely safe,” said Ventura Barba, executive director of Barcelona’s Sonar festival which is one of the organisers.

“We hope it will be a turning point,” he told AFP.

This week, Sonar said its hugely popular electronic and dance music festival would be cancelled for the second year running because of the Covid crisis.

“The pandemic has been a nightmare for everyone, but for the music industry in particular,” he said.

According to a study published by Spain’s Music Federation, the European music industry lost 76 percent of its earnings in 2020.

The tickets for Saturday’s concert sold out within just a few hours. Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP

For Love of Lesbian’s lead singer, Saturday’s gig was aimed at showing those in the music industry there was a way forward.

“It is creating a hole in the tunnel so the world of culture can see some light, or at least a possible way of doing things,” Balmes told AFP.

Although the pandemic forced the band to delay the release of their latest album by eight months, they feel luckier than most, given that many musicians  are “having a really bad time and even taking food parcels because they’ve got no income”.

The tickets for Saturday’s concert sold out within just a few hours.

“It was a real buzz but it’s logical: we’ve been living in a time of restraint and everyone’s had their handbrake on,” he said.

“We all need to let off a bit of steam and get back to our old lives.”

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IN PICS: How Barcelona’s La Rambla is set to be transformed

Authorities in the Catalan capital have started to redevelop Barcelona's most iconic street, not only transforming how it looks, but also the way it's used. Here's what it will be like and what you should know about the project.

IN PICS: How Barcelona's La Rambla is set to be transformed

More than 200,000 people walk along La Rambla de Barcelona (also called Las Ramblas) every day, adding up to around 80 million people a year. 

It’s by far the most famous street in Barcelona – perhaps even Spain together with Madrid’s Gran Vía – although nowadays it’s particularly popular with tourists visiting the city.

It’s lively, some would say chaotic, and in recent years pickpocketing and other illicit acts have tarnished its image. 

Now city authorities have embarked on an ambitious plan to transform Las Ramblas, providing more room for pedestrians and giving residents the chance to reclaim the space for their own enjoyment.

The plan to transform Barcelona’s emblematic Las Ramblas Street was first proposed back in 2017, but it wasn’t until last week that Catalonia’s Urban Planning Commission gave its final approval and the go-ahead for works to begin on Monday October 3rd.

The redevelopment has a total budget of €44.56 million and will be carried out in stages, with the first one expected to last 18 months.

The aim of the project is to modernise Las Ramblas, whilst at the same time, enhancing its historic elements and reactivating local commerce, as well as creating more space for pedestrians. 

The bottom of La Rambla near the port will be the first part to be transformed. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The new layout of the Rambla will improve the accessibility and connectivity between the Raval and Gòtico neighbourhoods.

La Rambla will become a greener space. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
Barcelona City Council also wants to make it a greener and nicer space for locals to use, as well as turning it into a cultural hub rather than just somewhere for tourists. 
New seating areas will be created under the trees along the route to ensure a balanced use of the public space between areas for leisure and areas where locals live.
The press kiosks will also be relocated and redistributed so that they do not face each other. Instead, they will be scattered between the trees along the Rambla de les Flors-Sant Josep, where they have historically been located. 

The way the pavements and roads look currently. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The pavement will be one of the main elements of transformation. In essence, city workers will reduce the amount of space allocated to vehicles and will give more of it to pedestrians.
There will now be one lane for vehicles rather than the current two, with sidewalks of at least 3 metres on either side.
Currently, the pavements on the sides of La Rambla are very slim and only allow for people to walk in single file, with others having to step onto the road to let people pass. 

A bird’s eye view of how the new Rambla will look. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The road will be restricted to neighbourhood traffic (residents’ vehicles), bicycles as well as service vehicles such as buses, taxis, delivery trucks and ambulances.

The central section of La Rambla will be widened. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The central promenade will also be widened, creating more space for both pedestrians and trees. It will be created from types of natural stone, granite and porphyry (a red stone embedded with quartz). This will allow for a simpler and more functional design.
There will no longer be any tarmac for vehicles either, the whole of Las Ramblas will be paved without a curb separating the road from the promenade.
In light of the terrorist attack on La Rambla in 2017, more security elements such as bollards and blockades will be incorporated. 

One of the new centres of La Rambla near the Liceu Theatre. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The plan is to create three large spaces, almost like plazas, including one near the Betlem church, one near the Boqueria market and one near the Liceu Theater. These will be configured differently and have a more circular flow, instead of just a longitudinal one, allowing for more cultural elements too.
The city council has already started creating more cultural events around Las Ramblas with the introduction of the Àgora Musical de la Plaça Reial festival, which has attracted more than 7500 people attending 50 concerts, held between June and October this year.