Coronavirus crowd study: German researchers find ‘glimmers of hope’ after inviting thousands to indoor concert in Leipzig

In one scenario modeled by the scientists, the infection risk for participants and their contacts was around 70 times lower when health and safety instructions were followed, compared with what it could have been under pre-pandemic behavior.

“A concert or handball game with a strictly enforced safety protocol is safer than the participation in a big wedding,” said Michael Gekle, the dean of the medical department at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, who was involved in the research.

The scientists’ conclusions are based on an experiment that drew around 1,400 people to an indoor concert simulation in August, hosted in one of the country’s largest venues in the eastern German city of Leipzig.

The researchers from the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, a public institution, used tracking devices to gather data on the movements and behavior of participants, all of whom had to test negative for the virus to be allowed to participate. Over the following two months, the data gathered during the day-long experiment in August was fed into a computer simulation to estimate the hypothetical spread of the coronavirus for varying safety protocols and infection rates.

Finding a balance between economic incentives to fill a venue as much as possible and safety constraints to limit the risks was the main goal of the experiment that looked at three scenarios.

In the first, participants — while still wearing masks — pretended that the pandemic did not exist, allowing the researchers to create a detailed computer simulation of a concert with no social distancing and with an auditorium at full capacity.

In the second scenario, organizers imposed light social distancing rules and reduced the number of participants. This scenario, the researchers said Thursday, would provide sufficient safety to hold indoor events up to an infection rate of 50 new cases per 100,000 people within a week. Germany deems regions that cross this threshold as risk areas.

Events could still be held with infection levels above that rate, the researchers found, but only if organizers were to follow stringent distancing, as modeled in a third scenario.

In all three scenarios, participants had assigned seats.

The researchers cautioned that participants’ safety largely depends on face masks and on indoor ventilation systems, which were both found to play a critical role in preventing infections.

Germany already approved a $580 million program last month to improve ventilation systems in museums, theaters and other spaces. As long as no effective vaccine has been widely distributed more funding for ventilation will be needed, said Stefan Moritz, who headed the experiment. “This pandemic won’t be over in a few months,” he said.

In the lead-up to the concert, the prospect of the experiment sparked hate mail and accusations that it would become a superspreader event, but the researchers said Thursday that the concert had resulted in no known infections.

The release of their findings Thursday came at a pivotal time in Germany, and one day after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a month-long partial national lockdown this

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The Latest: German area goes into de-facto virus lockdown

BERLIN — A second German district has gone into a de-facto lockdown as new coronavirus infections surge in the country and across Europe.

The restrictions in Bavaria’s Rottal-Inn county, on the border with Austria, began Tuesday, news agency dpa reported. Rottal-Inn follows Berchtesgaden, another Bavarian county in Germany’s southeastern corner, which introduced similar restrictions last week.

Schools and kindergartens will be closed and events canceled, and people told not to leave their homes without good reason.

Rottal-Inn has recorded well over 200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over the past seven days. In Germany, measures are required once new infections top the 50 per 100,000 mark.

On Tuesday, the country’s national disease control center reported 11,409 new infections. Another 42 people died, bringing the country’s overall virus death toll to 10,098.

Hospitals and intensive units are filling up again and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed grave concern, saying the current restrictions are not strong enough to slow down the spread of the virus.

Merkel will meet with the state governors Wednesday and the government is likely to introduce further restrictions.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— The coronavirus is getting worse in states that Trump needs to win the most

— U.S. sees coronavirus deaths rising, just like the experts predicted

— European nations enact sweeping restrictions like curfews to try to slow surging infection rates

— In a year marked by fear and death, Americans wrestle with celebrating a holiday hinged on turning fear and death into fun

— World Series is being played at a neutral site in front of smallest crowds in a century, but Dodgers and Rays are just happy that some fans are there

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— Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PARIS — France’s government is holding emergency virus meetings Tuesday and warning of possible new lockdowns, as hospitals fill up with new COVID patients and doctors plead for backup.

President Emmanuel Macron is convening top ministers and Prime Minister Jean Castex is meeting with lawmakers, unions and business lobbies as the government weighs its next steps in the fight against surging infections. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France-Inter radio that “we should expect difficult decisions.”

Among possible new measures for the hardest-hit areas are lengthening existing curfews, full confinement on weekends or all week, and closing non-essential businesses.

Doctors describe growing pressure on emergency services and intensive care wards, where COVID patients now take up 54% of beds nationwide.

France is now reporting more than 350 new cases per 100,000 people each week, and nearly 18% of its widespread tests are now coming back positive. It has reported Europe’s third-highest virus death toll, at more than 35,000 lives lost.

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MOSCOW — Russian authorities on Tuesday have issued a nationwide mask requirement amid a rapid resurgence of the coronavirus outbreak.

Health authorities registered 16,550 new cases and 320 new deaths on Tuesday, the highest daily death toll

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