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"Testing, testing..." how Eurovision is keeping everyone safe

18 May 2021 at 12:00 CEST
Eurovision Test Pavilion Nathan Reinds / NPO/NOS/AVROTROS
Uniting Europe on one stage during a global pandemic isn't without its challenges, and everyone in Rotterdam Ahoy is playing their part.

How many COVID-19 tests does it take to go to Eurovision? The answer depends on how long you’re staying in Rotterdam.

For the team, who are in the host city for just over two weeks, it amounts to at least eight rapid tests, plus whatever PCR tests are required to leave and re-enter their country of origin. That’s a LOT of nasal swabs.

Eurovision Test Pavilion Nathan Reinds / NPO/NOS/AVROTROS

It’s all part of Eurovision’s commitment to make this year’s contest as safe as it possibly can be, and nobody is exempt from the rules. Whether you’re a Head of Delegation, a member of the catering team, or Duncan Lawrence, your security pass to access the arena only works if you’ve registered a negative Covid test in the previous 48 hours. Before that time expires, you have to head to the huge testing pavilion outside Rotterdam Ahoy - once you have a negative result, your security pass is activated again.

Testing is carried out by COVID-19 experts Lead Healthcare, who have supplied all the testing staff and equipment in a purpose-built facility that ensures the process is as quick and inconvenient as possible. The testers come from all kinds of backgrounds – so far we’ve been tested by students, graphic designers and medical assistants, but they’ve all undergone extensive training in the testing protocol and are tested themselves every day.

Volunteers 2021 EBU/Thomas Hanses

The first option is a breath test, which takes only a few minutes. It’s a very sensitive test, so if your breath sample is inconclusive you are given a lateral flow test with a nasal swab instead, and you have to wait 20 minutes in a secure waiting area until your results arrive by email and your security pass is re-activated for another 48 hours. Inconvenient? A little, yes. But also vital to protect the thousands of people working in the arena, so nobody is complaining.

But testing is only part of the protocol – hand sanitising and social distancing are both required (and rigidly enforced) throughout the venue, and everyone must wear a mask whenever they’re moving around the arena, even the performers on the way to the stage.

Social distancing in the Press Conference Hall - Rotterdam Ahoy NPO/NOS/AVROTROS Nathan Reinds

Numbers of press have been reduced too, with only 500 being giving full accreditation that allows them access to the venue. Rather than the bustling press rooms of previous years, the press centre at Rotterdam Ahoy includes individual socially-distanced workspaces that are sanitised throughout the day.

Other members of the press who can’t be here in person have been given access to an online press centre, which provides live feeds of performances, press conferences and all the information they’d usually have access to live.

First Semi-Final, Rotterdam Ahoy, 18 May 2021 EBU / Andres Putting

Until six weeks ago there was a question mark over whether an audience would be permitted, but now a reduced audience of 3,500 has been confirmed for each of the live shows. Masks will not be required, but everyone who attends must have a negative COVID-19 test before they’re allowed in the venue. Because of travel restrictions, only Dutch residents will be able to attend, but of course that audience is likely to include nationals from other nations who currently live in the Netherlands. It's great for the delegations to perform in front of a live audience, and exciting for Rotterdam to be one of the first to stage an indoor event with a large audience.

Outside of the arena, crew and staff are housed in allocated hotels, with exclusive transport shuttles (buses and Eurovision-branded electric cars). Rules about mixing outside of bubbles are strict, and for most of the crew and staff there are no opportunities to sightsee or socialise, or even watch the show live in the arena.

Electric Eurovision shuttle cars

In previous years there have been events and shows around the Host City, as well as the Euroclub nightspot for accredited visitors - this year a fantastic online Village where fans can socialise and watch exclusive performances, has been created especially.