France uses ‘test concerts’ to study public venue Covid risk

Two concerts are set to be held in Marseille under strict Covid-safe, scientific conditions as calls grow for other public spaces such as museums to reopen ‘for mental health’

Published Last updated

France is to hold two “test concerts” in a study, monitored by research scientists, to see if or how public venues might reopen during Covid, as a high-profile open letter calls for museums to reopen too.

The two concerts will be held at the 8,500-capacity Dôme de Marseille, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, in March and April. Just 1,000 healthy, volunteer members of the public will be invited to attend each.

The events will be closely monitored by health research agency l'Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (Inserm), which will evaluate the risks of spreading the virus under the new protocol.

The entire arena will be disinfected and each attendee will be required to take a PCR test before and after the concert.

The results from the attendees will then be compared to a similar group of people who did not attend the event.

If researchers working on the study - including doctors and infectious diseases specialists - conclude that there is no “added risk” of being infected during a concert or event, then it may help lead the way for events venues to reopen.

Dr Vincent Estornel, one of the researchers on the study, told news service FranceInfo. “These will be healthy volunteers who will be selected according to [specific] criteria, which will be defined by the Inserm protocol.”

Marseille-based rap group IAM will perform at the events, just months after the group took part in a similar study with 500 people in Barcelona, Spain, in December.

Call for museum reopening

(Photo: Bara Cross / Pexels)

The announcement of the concert hall events comes as a group of figures from the world of art and culture have called for the immediate reopening of museums.

In an open letter to newspaper Le Monde, high-profile cultural figures including journalists Florence Belkacem and Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, artist Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, historian and presenter Stéphane Bern, emergency doctor Patrick Pelloux, and actress Elsa Zylberstein have demanded the reopening of museums as a key way to “improve public mental health”.

The letter reads: “The pandemic requires us to limit interactions between people, but not between people and works of art...we ask for an end to this fatal status quo [of closures], which is insidiously attacking our mental health, and for historical sites to once more be open to the public, as soon as February.

“The spread of the pandemic requires us to find innovative ‘out of the box’ responses...why keep museums closed when we do not eat, drink, smoke, touch anything, barely speak or mix with others [when looking round]?

“They are doubtlessly areas in which human interaction and contamination risks are less likely, in as much as they welcome the public during the day, and can work with the 18:00 curfew.

“Also, we are asking the government to look at what is happening outside of France...and suggest an innovative way to get out of this crisis.”

The letter references countries that have already reopened certain museums, including Belgium, Spain, Italy and Luxembourg, which the writers say reopened “after risk analyses” showed that “visiting works of art and monuments was compatible with strict health protocols”.

It says that the Conseil d’Etat itself (France’s highest administrative court) had admitted in December that the closure of museums amounted to “a serious attack on the freedom of expression, communication, and artistic expression”, and an attack on “the freedom of access to cultural works”.

The letter demands the reopening of the 1,200 sites with “Musée de France” status, plus 3,000 other museums and sites, as well as 8,000 historical monuments that are regularly open to the public.

“This will be a way of offering the treasures of France to our co-citizens once more”, it reads.

It concludes: “Let us bring back lightness, desire, and creativity to our country, because according to André Malraux, ‘the museum is the only place in the world that you can escape death’”.

Museums and concert halls have been closed for months in France, with no definite reopening date currently set, as the government continues to evaluate the risks of the ongoing pandemic.

Related stories

In which places does Covid-19 spread the most?

French museums offering art, culture and history from home