COVID-19 antigen testing and health passports for guests: how companies prepare for in-person events
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Less than 3 months remain before the end of the second state of alarm imposed by the accelerated spread of COVID-19 in Spain.
The regulation limits meetings in public and private spaces to a maximum of 6 non-cohabiting individuals. And it confers to the autonomous regions the adjustment of curfews and capacity -generalized at a maximum of 30% of the premises.
To date, there is no specific legislation for business or institutional events beyond the state legislation, Belén Marrón, lawyer, protocol and institutional relations expert, founding partner of Athenea Healthcare Group, and professor at EAE Business School, told Business Insider España.
But they can be held as long as they comply with the restrictions imposed by the state of alarm and the conditions of each autonomy.
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“You have to always go with the rules of the game. The government designs the framework in which we can move as companies,” says Santiago Álvarez de Toledo, country manager of International SOS, a health and safety services company that prepares a health passport.
According to Andrés Ballesteros, CBO of Connect by Circular Lab and Athenea collaborator, the regulation is based on recommendations depending on the type of event.
“They are governed by the number of people, duration time and proximity, and are classified into low, medium and high risks,” he explains to Business Insider Spain.
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Amid the decline of the third wave of coronavirus and the prevailing desire to reactivate and boost the country’s economy, companies are beginning to outline solutions to return to the new normal.
“It’s still in a very early stage, with a lot of fear and a lot of respect for corporate events. The virus will end up living with us, like the flu virus. Now it remains to be seen under what conditions the activity will be resumed,” Business Insider España was told by the COOVID initiative, which in collaboration with the Barcelona Salut Foundation and the Spain Health Foundation carries out COVID-19 tests for events.
However, Arquimea Medical, which leads the health area and the ALIANZA COVID-19 service, denies that companies that maintain routine activity, are holding events. “They are not yet holding events where large crowds of people are moving about.”
Meanwhile, the practice of controls and the deployment of COVID-19 test extends to reduced meetings behind closed doors. And the approval of a sanitary passport is expected, with registration of PCR results, rapid tests for antibodies or antigens, and vaccines against COVID-19.
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The margin between the maximum attendance of 6 people – which, as a rule, is respected at meetings – and 30% of the venue capacity, leaves unspecified meetings in a no-man’s land.
“The trend is that companies are taking responsibility themselves because there are many legal loopholes and misinformation caused by a flood of regulation,” acknowledges Marrón, a lawyer and member of the Health Advisory Council of the Ministry of Health.
For example, from Athenea, a consulting firm specializing in health, events guarantee the safety distance, recommend FFP2 masks, hydroalcoholic gel, protection of common elements such as microphones, air purifiers and 30% capacity.
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For their part, laboratories and event management firms focus on ensuring health safety but do not interfere in the legal arena.
“Each one must adapt to the regulations that apply to them at the time and organize events in compliance with the regulations. We limit ourselves to carrying out the screening test,” insist COVID-19 event organization specialists who carry out COVID-19 tests for events, with the collaboration of the Barcelona Salut Foundation and the Spain Health Foundation.
According to the representative of International SOS, a key aspect is to have certain medical governance and specific prevention plans for COVID-19 and to avoid risks of infection.
Entities opt to increase safety levels with COVID-19 antigen testing, or PCR if the time margin allows it.
Most opt, as in the case of Athenea, for generalized control and prevention measures: masks and social distancing.
Others are increasing safety levels, notes Dr. Pilar de la Huerta, director of Arquimea Medical, a company of the Arquimea group that leads the health area, and the ALIANZA COVID-19 service.
To do so, they perform polymerase chain reaction (PCR), antibody, and antigen tests. The latter identifies whether the guests are currently infectious – which is what companies are interested in – and provide results in a matter of minutes.
“We always propose to do events with antigen pre-testing,” agrees Ballesteros. “In fact, we have done events where it has worked that way and they have turned out to be safe.”
The experts’ stance resonates with one of the studies carried out by the Fight AIDS and Infectious Diseases Foundation and the Germans Trias i Pujol University Hospital in Badalona (Barcelona) and Primavera Sound.
“The study showed that by testing for antigens, prior to a concert, all those who attended and a control group, COVID-19 infections did not increase,” says Ballesteros, also CEO of Vivia Biotech.
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From COOVID, health experts carry out a pre-event screening test, how and where the company wants, the communications manager tells Business Insider Spain.
“The idea is for everyone to pass an antigen test, before everyone gathers, and to be able to offer security to the greatest extent possible. It is impossible to guarantee 100% effectiveness in any screening,” he acknowledges.
Then, the laboratory draws up a report and it is the entity that organizes the event that proceeds to notify -or not- the identified positives.
“We generate a report in which we say whether that person is contagious and from there, each company decides,” COOVID describes.
But the involvement of other organizers of specialized health events does include a report to the health authorities of each community.
“Our role ends in communicating the positive or negative to the company and the infected to the autonomous community, if any,” explains ALIANZA COVID-19, who for sporting events act in the management of the infected.
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“Events as such, carried out by companies to invite customers or their employees to make a celebration, we are not yet living it,” defends de la Huerta.
In his case, ALIANZA COVID-19 focuses on the organization of sporting and professional events – where there is movement, he stresses.
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“There are events where only professional players participate. And then there are certain events that are starting to open up to a restricted public,” he explains.
One of them was the final of the Women’s Golf Open in Marbella.
“On the one hand, there were the professional players with all the organization and equipment they require. But there were also certain events, with professionals and amateurs, that were open to the more general public,” he tells Business Insider Spain, clarifying that neither similar to the attendance of other years before.
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The sanitation control of these calls scales different levels of security.
According to de la Huerta, clients can decide whether to perform PCRs every 3 or 4 days; weekly PCRs and antigen testing; or directly an antigen test at the entrance of the venues.
“To scale the level of health security, healthcare professionals create different bubbles. Depending on the groups, PCR or antigen testing is done. The level of security is lower than PCR, but it is still a preventive measure in which anyone with a very high viral load would be detected,” he explains.
In fact, even press professionals have to pass the controls and the same PCR tests as the protagonists of the event, she specifies.
“In general, it is detected very early if someone has been infected outside and tests positive,” she says.
The future of corporate events continues to include a COVID-19 test pack, but with a health passport.
How do companies that do not test their customers ensure the safety of everyone else present?
This happens, for example, in the hospitality and tourism sector.
Right now, on airlines, given that the vast majority of destinations, mainly in Europe, ask for PCR or antibody tests to be done in the hours before boarding the plane.
But, beyond a piece of paper that certifies it, the airlines have no way of guaranteeing that the passenger has taken the test – unless they call the laboratories one by one.
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To this end, International SOS is studying a health passport, known as the AOKpass.
AOKpass consists of a digital certificate that tells whether the test result is valid. It is in pilot testing in Girona, where local authorities are looking to recover attendance at soccer stadiums, restaurants and events, Alvarez de Toledo explains.
“The idea of these health passports is to use them to revive the economy.”
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The system is being tested at 175 airports in 21 countries so that passengers can board planes with an accredited PCR.
In fact, Air Caraïbes in France has just launched it for certain routes to the Caribbean.
But about the pilot trial being tested in Girona, they cannot give results, describe how it is being tested, or assure that it will be available to the general population. It will be available to a very famous restaurant and soccer clubs.
In the future, International SOS expects the health passport to certify the test results. And it will confirm immunization with the COVID-19 vaccine, but it has only been tested with the flu candidate.
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For those still keeping their feet on the ground, the pilot project, which will culminate in Girona in February 2021, will continue to include COVID-19 testing.
“Testing prior to the event, fair or congress is a very useful measure to ensure that you are putting a filter when gathering a certain number of people in a closed place, regardless of whether the capacity is lower, there is distance, masks, etc.,” insists de la Huerta, agreeing with Ballesteros.
“They can be done at the entrance of any event and in 15 minutes you have the results.”
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