Spanish town parties like it’s 2019… and it’s all in the name of science

Clinical studies never looked so good: for a few hours on Thursday in a beach town near Barcelona some 400 people said adios to pandemic distancing and partied like it was 2019 -- all in the name of science.

Spanish town parties like it's 2019... and it's all in the name of science
People gather at a terrace bar during a trial clinical study for a possible reopening of nightlife in Sitges, near Barcelona. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Masks were the only visible sign of the times as participants were given free reign to bar hop, dance and drink indoors and outdoors at cafes and clubs along a 400 metre stretch of street in the town of Sitges.

The aim of the study: to test whether clubs can reopen without posing a threat of contagion.

Besides agreeing to wear either FFP2 or surgical masks, revellers were required to present a negative antigen test taken a few hours prior to the

“When I saw there was finally the chance to go and party I didn’t think twice,” happy participant Nuria Miralpeix, 38, told AFPTV. “The last time I went out was in March 2020. Since then I’ve been shut in and now I feel like a student who’s dying to party on a Thursday!” added the financial director, smiling.

Though the feeling of freedom only lasts a few hours, Edgar, 37, said one must “take advantage.”

The street in Sitges hosting the study is known historically for its nightlife. Parties here provided a safe space for homosexuals when they were persecuted under the Franco dictatorship from 1939 until 1975.

Organisers requested that participants respect social distancing for five days after the study to eliminate the risk of contamination.

Then another antigen test will reveal whether the party was responsible for any new cases. Clubs and bars in Catalonia were barely able to open for one month between last spring’s confinements and new measures imposed in July.

“This clinical study should open the way for the return of nightlife — the only sector that remains completely shut down,” regional health official Marc
Armengol said.

Sponsored by the city and Catalonian health officials, the experiment follows two other studies conducted during concerts in Barcelona.

In December a team of researchers carried out a pilot project that brought together 500 previously-tested revellers who were able to dance without social distancing — but with masks.

Days later, none of the participants had contracted Covid-19. At the end of March another test concert brought together some 5,000 people with organisers saying there was “no sign” of contagion afterwards.

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Covid-19 still causing 1,000 deaths a week in Europe, WHO warns

The World Health Organization's European office warned on Tuesday the risk of Covid-19 has not gone away, saying it was still responsible for nearly 1,000 deaths a week in the region. And the real figure may be much higher.

Covid-19 still causing 1,000 deaths a week in Europe, WHO warns

The global health body on May 5 announced that the Covid-19 pandemic was no longer deemed a “global health emergency.”

“Whilst it may not be a global public health emergency, however, Covid-19 has not gone away,” WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge told reporters.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries, including several in central Asia.

“Close to 1,000 new Covid-19 deaths continue to occur across the region every week, and this is an underestimate due to a drop in countries regularly reporting Covid-19 deaths to WHO,” Kluge added, and urged authorities to ensure vaccination coverage of at least 70 percent for vulnerable groups.

Kluge also said estimates showed that one in 30, or some 36 million people, in the region had experienced so called “long Covid” in the last three years, which “remains a complex condition we still know very little about.”

“Unless we develop comprehensive diagnostics and treatment for long Covid, we will never truly recover from the pandemic,” Kluge said, encouraging more research in the area which he called an under-recognised condition.

Most countries in Europe have dropped all Covid safety restrictions but some face mask rules remain in place in certain countries in places like hospitals.

Although Spain announced this week that face masks will no longer be required in certain healthcare settings, including hospitals and pharmacies, with a couple of exceptions.

Sweden will from July 1st remove some of its remaining Covid recommendations for the public, including advice to stay home and avoid close contact with others if you’re ill or have Covid symptoms.

The health body also urged vigilance in the face of a resurgence of mpox, having recorded 22 new cases across the region in May, and the health impact of heat waves.