Festival Safety: Partying in a post-pandemic world

It’s been just over a week since England welcomed ‘Freedom Day’, with virtually all COVID-19 restrictions being lifted (or at least no longer a legal requirement for the most part).

Whilst the government’s decision has left a country divided, particularly due to cases continuing to rise, for many this date has marked the confirmation of festivals and concerts returning to arenas and fields across the country.

As an industry that has suffered significantly from this last year and a half, with the sector’s revenues dropping by 90% in 2020 (Accessaa 2020, cited in House of Commons, May 2021), this finally feels like a light at the end of the tunnel and a turning point in what has been a turbulent time of job losses and uncertainty.

And what feels better than dancing in yours wellies in the mud, ciders in hand and a concoction of glitter and Vaseline greased on your face, whilst listening to your favourite artists once again? This pre-pandemic memory now feels like it is slowly becoming more of a reality this summer, with Reading and Leeds Festival being one of the events to return this summer at the end of August.

However, despite our new ‘freedoms’, we cannot become relaxed in our safety- even more so now. It can be natural to ‘let loose’ after 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions, but this reimbursed autonomy comes with responsibility- both for ourselves and others. Speaking to paramedic Leah, she warns that the return of freedom and festivals may cause complacency in some.

“We still don’t really know the long-term effects of the virus,” she says, “we certainly can’t guarantee that some ‘2-metre distancing’ signs are going to stop friends who haven’t seen each other in a year from hugging and dancing together and we all know festivals aren’t known for their cleanliness!

“I might be on my own in thinking that these events might be opening too early given that over 80% of festival goers are under 30 and this category have only been given their first vaccine… Everyone has been very quick to accept the notion that the pandemic is over, even if it is still in full swing with cases rising.”

This concern of COVID-19 safety is not the only worry for event-organisers. In fact, it’s just another addition to the growing pressures that paramedics and event-staff are normally under at festivals and concerts, most commonly the abuse of alcohol and recreational drugs.

“It’s widely known that the most common incidents we see and treat at festivals come from those taking drugs and alcohol,” Leah continues.

“We’re not the police and I’m not going to shame anyone for what they drink, take and smoke… but I’m sure a fractured femur from a drunken tabletop dance and a broken jaw from a drugged-up fist fight isn’t going to be the highlight of your Reading and Leeds experience!”

Alcohol abuse and drug overdoses are sadly nothing new for festivals here in the UK, with one teenager dying in hospital two days after they had taken MDMA at Reading Festival in 2019 (BBC News, June 2020), just one death of many over the years. But such news and stats haven’t deterred festival-goers from continuing to take drugs.

Whilst drug-testing tents have been offered in the past, with 8,000 people coming forward to have their drugs tested at UK festivals in 2018 (BBC News, September 2018), it still remains a common activity at many events in the British Summertime.

Now, with added COVID-19 safety concerns, it seems that medical staff and event organisers are under more pressure than ever to keep people as safe as possible as our favourite events make a return.

But, what can we do individually to keep ourselves and others safe at future festivals and events?

“Maybe a free lateral flow handout during the event and a 10-day isolation or a mandatory COVID PCR swab following the event could ensure that people can be aware of their health throughout and following the festival,” says Leah.

Such regulations have already been put into place, with Reading Festival’s website (2021) stating that either proof of a full vaccination (with the second dose done at least 14 days prior to the event); a negative NHS Lateral Flow Test (taken on the day prior to travel to the event); or proof of natural immunity (based on a positive PCR test within 180 days of the festival and 10 days self-isolation following the result).

As for general safety: managing your alcohol limits, drinking plenty of water, and having a buddy system are just some of the many steps you can take to keep safe and enjoy your weekend, without a trip to the medical tent!

So, whilst the return of festivals is an exciting time for many, let’s ensure that when we return once more to the mud-ridden fields this summer, we do it safely (and don’t forget to add a lateral flow test or two to your packing list!).

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