Nightclubs are the new Covid battleground

Clubbers stand around the block a few minutes before midnight waiting for the Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted and Pryzm nightclub to reopen its doors on July 18, 2021 in Brighton, England.

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LONDON – Nightclubs and bars are fast becoming the new battleground in the fight against Covid-19 as nighttime economies reopen in some countries and coronavirus cases escalate, especially among young people.

Covid is experiencing a resurgence in Europe as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated population, who are mostly young as they were the last to receive a vaccine.

At the same time, a number of European countries decided to revitalize their night economy and reopen bars and clubs to the public, some after 16 months of closure that put many out of business.

In England, nightclubs were allowed to reopen when the clock struck midnight on Sunday and thousands of night owls soaked up the lights, music and the lack of face masks and social distancing. Experts are already warning that moving England is risky, especially as other countries that reopened before reopening have now closed their shop (or club) again.

U-turns elsewhere

Other countries reopened their nightclubs in June, including the Netherlands and Spain, but both were making quick revisions and withdrawals in light of the Covid situation.

In the Netherlands, nightclubs reopened on June 26, but the government soon regretted the decision, reversed it just two weeks later and closed them again on July 10 when Covid cases rose in the country, especially among youth . More than 1,000 Covid infections were linked to a music festival in the Dutch city of Utrecht in early July.

Read more: Dutch people try to stamp out rule violations in bars and cafes as Covid infections increase

Amsterdam’s Melkweg, which had to close its club doors by August 13, described the move as “an annoying decision” but said: “Due to the increasing number of infections, we believe that we do not yet have a safe environment for the public, employees and artists.”

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick’s Warwick Medical School, told CNBC on Wednesday that the country’s experience was a warning to England.

“If you look at the data from the Netherlands, it’s pretty clear that this nightclub scene fueled that infection rate. It’s clear that the opening up like it did, especially with the night pub, was a real one.” Drivers to massive numbers of infections. They recorded an eight-fold increase [in cases] in a week and most of it in the 18-29 year olds, “he noted.

“I don’t want to appear like a Doomster, but if you look at the pictures from England at midnight [when clubs reopened on Sunday] It’s really scary and for me it’s really inevitable that we have to put some restrictions back in place, “he said in particular, while there were 18-30 year olds who weren’t vaccinated or fully vaccinated.

The virus is “not overcome”

Much like the Netherlands, Spain was optimistic about being able to reopen nightclubs too, an important part of its nighttime economy and tourism sector.

In June, the government announced plans to allow all 17 regions of Spain to reopen their venues in time for the summer season. But with strict rules; Clubs could only stay open until 3 a.m., the number of people in the venues would be limited (depending on the Covid situation in the region) and the restrictions would remain in place until Spain reaches a vaccination rate of 70%.

A handful of regions declined to move at the time, but others went ahead and reopened their clubs on the weekend of June 26th. As in the Netherlands, however, cases among young people increased and several regions took the unilateral move to close venues again. Now there are a variety of different rules on closing times, curfews and capacities across Spain, local media report.

Young men with alcoholic drinks in their hands make fun and scream on the Barceloneta seafront promenade on July 17, 2021. Police are evicting crowds from Barceloneta beach after Catalonia ordered the return of a 1am curfew due to recovery in Covid-19 cases as a result of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

SOPA pictures | LightRakete | Getty Images

When she forced the clubs in Barcelona to close in early July – just a few weeks after they reopened – Catalonia’s regional government spokeswoman Patricia Plaja stated: “We cannot pretend we have overcome the virus. The data are worrying and the number of infections is high “growing exponentially, well beyond what we can afford.”

Gustavo Ferrer, co-owner and director of the Macarena Club in Barcelona, ​​which had to close its doors in early July, told CNBC on Thursday that the closure was “very difficult for us, we have been closed for many months”.

The closing order was all the more frustrating, he said, because “we thought the authorities had studied the situation well and had everything under control, but that was not the case and after two weeks we had to close again.”

Read more: The beta-Covid variant is causing concern in Europe. Do we need to worry?

Ferrer said the Macarena hopes to reopen with vaccine passports and antigen testing in mid-August or early September to get the industry back on its feet.

The British government announced earlier this week that it would be introducing a compulsory Covid vaccination for nightclub-goers and other crowded venues in England from the end of September. This sparked criticism from the industry, including from Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, who commented on Twitter on Tuesday: “Freedom Day for clubs lasted around 17 hours.”

Doctors are concerned

The rate of infection among young people rightly worries doctors.

Chris Lutterodt, a doctor and spokesperson for the Healthcare Workers Foundation charity, told CNBC that the link between nightlife and Covid infection is evident as it is “harder to keep social distancing and enforce rules in this environment, especially when alcohol is in it.” Mixture is coming ”.

“As a family doctor [general practitioner] I have seen many, especially young people, who have sought advice and support after suffering from Covid. This reflects what we see with an increased number of infections, mostly affecting the younger people. I have seen patients who have been to stag and hen parties over the past weekends where a significant number of them have developed Covid and in one case 6 out of 8 attendees, “he said.

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“We have to remember that people recently vaccinated with the first dose may not have sufficient immunity to protect them from contracting Covid-19. It is important to follow government advice and, if necessary, social distancing measures to stop the spread. “

Lutterodt said governments need to ensure that proper procedures are in place before night industries are opened “if we are to avoid further spikes in cases and re-closings of nightclubs that have really suffered during this pandemic”.

As it is, however, he added that he was concerned that reopening clubs “will create the perfect storm for an increase in cases and subsequent hospitalizations, especially during the fall and winter months when the NHS (the National Health service) is usually “. under enormous pressure. “

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