Hilde Crevits, Flemish minister for economy, has demanded an account of the grant of €1.8 million made to the organisers of the Pukkelpop festival, which was cancelled this week.
The payment was an advance on the subsidy the Flemish government normally pays to the festival, and was intended to be use to allow them to prepare for the four-day event planned for the second half of August. The event involves an enormous amount of preparation, including the construction of stages, whose contactors will now have to be paid whether the festival takes place or not.
The advance has been approved by the Flemish agency for innovation and enterprise, but not yet paid out.
The question facing Crevits now is, what is to happen with the promised advance? The answer, according to the website of the innovation agency, seems clear enough. Recipients are not obliged to refund an advance “if the event is cancelled due to government measures related to Covid-19”.
But was Pukkelpop pushed, or did they jump? That answer is less clear.
The festival was planned to go ahead with 66,000 people a day attending, and the organisers had planned to install testing according to that number, and according to the measures in force last weekend – a testing capacity of 7,000 people a day.
A negative test is required to be able to attend.
But then, the Consultative Committee on Monday this week altered the validity of negative tests, from 72 hours for a PCR test – the one with the swab up the nose – to 48 hours, and from 48 hours for the simpler antigen test to 24 hours.
That, festival organisers said, would triple the need for testing capacity, and force some festival-goers to submit to several tests over the four-day period – something that would be impossible to police once the visitors were on site.
According to reports, federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke was adamant: either the festival could comply, or it could close the gates. In this, he was backed by the country’s virologists, who had been looking on in horror at the idea of 66,000 young people, many or most unvaccinated, gathered together in one place for four days – a Petri dish of disease, from a medical point of view.
Finally, Pukkelpop organisers had no choice but to cancel. But is that cancellation their own, or was it forced on them by the federal government?
That is the question Crevits’ services will now have to work out.
Pukkelpop has already made its case, in the statement issued to announce the cancellation of the 2021 festival.
“Following consultations with the Pukkelpop team, the federal government has today decided not to allow the festival to proceed in its current form. As a result, Pukkelpop is postponed to 2022.”